Malnati Posts Second Course Record of 2012 to Take 36-hole Lead at Wintergreen
By Stewart Moore
Wintergreen, VA – Just one day after Travis Ross tied the existing course record with an 8-under 64 at Stoney Creek Golf Club, site of this week’s Championship at Wintergreen Resort, Peter Malnati of Dandridge, TN broke it by one, posting 10 birdies on Thursday en route to a 9-under 63. The record-setting performance, his second of the year, vaulted Malnati up to 13-under 131 on the week, and gave the former University of Missouri golfer sole possession of the lead heading into Friday’s third round of the 72-hole event.
The Championship at Wintergreen Resort is the 14th of 24 scheduled events on the 2012 eGolf Tour schedule, and is being contested this week at Wintergreen’s Stoney Creek Golf Club (Monocan/Shamokin) in Wintergreen, VA.
Malnati’s week at the stunning Virginia resort began on a tear Wednesday afternoon, with six birdies in his first eight holes of tournament play.
“Yesterday started it. I birdied six of my first eight holes before I began missing short putts and making bogeys on the back nine,” said Malnati, 25. “I birdied two of the last three to get it back together, but I hit it well, so I was excited to come back out today.”
Malnati’s first-round 68 could have been much lower, but the potential that was lost on day one was more than recovered on day two. Beginning Thursday’s second round on the front nine (Monocan), Malnati overcame a blasé start featuring pars on Nos. 1 and 2 with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 3 and 4 to quickly move to 2-under par.
A birdie at the par-4 seventh moved him to 3-under, but it was a trifecta of birdies on Nos. 9, 10 and 11 that catapulted his round into the variety that people pay attention to. Suddenly 6-under par through 11 holes of play, Malnati did anything but let up.
A birdie at the par-5 13th gave way to a bogey at the par-4 15th, but the late blunder led into a torrid finish, where Malnati posted birdies on 16, 17 and 18 to finish off a 9-under effort that eclipsed the prior record set by Ross and Scotland’s Alan McLean (2003).
“I didn’t have to make any long putts today. I made a few 10- to 12-footers, but most of my birdies were of the kick-in range,” said Malnati of his second-round 63. “I struggled with my putter on the back nine yesterday, but I knew I was a good putter, so I still felt good coming into today.”
The course at Stoney Creek has been set up in a manner that requires accurate tee shots and appropriate curving of the ball on various holes. Firm and fast fairways accentuated by a thick strand of rough play in stark contrast to greens that are somewhat receptive, given the oppressive heat shadowing the scenic Rockfish River Valley.
“If you put it in the fairway here, you can attack the pins,” Malnati said. “That being said, it’s not easy to hit the fairways as they’re pretty firm. You have to be pretty accurate off the tee.”
Malnati has had somewhat of a breakthrough season thus far in 2012, with $33,287 in earnings to sit at No. 11 on the tour’s money list.
At the tour’s Championship at St. James Plantation in April, Malnati rode a course-record 63 in the event’s opening round to a career-best T2 finish. After entering the final round with a one-shot lead, Malnati posted a closing 72 to fall three shots shy of winner Josh Brock.
In May, Malnati opened the tour’s Willow Creek Open with rounds of 65-67—132 to grab a one-shot lead over leading money winner Drew Weaver heading into the final round, but fell victim to a bogey-free 67 by Weaver, and wound up solo-third on the week.
Tired of being close, and failing to smoke the proverbial cigar, Malnati feels as though he is ready to win for the first time on the eGolf Tour, perhaps this week at Wintergreen.
“My game is good. I feel like I’ve played a few decent rounds,” he said. “I feel like I’m not quite as relaxed in some of those final rounds, but the more you put yourself there, the more comfortable you become. Every time you’re in that situation, it gets a little better.”
Starting with the tour’s River Run Classic in late March, Malnati has now posted 24 of his last 27 rounds on tour at par or better, with four coming in at 65 or better – including the two course records.
“For the first time ever, these past few months, I’ve gotten into the zone, or whatever people say it is,” said Malnati. “Regardless of what iron it is in my hand, depending on where I am in the fairway, I feel like I can fire at the pin. If I can keep that up this week, I think I’ll have a good chance.”
Tied for second, two shots behind Malnati at 11-under 133, are Travis Ross of Crookston, MN, Cam Burke of Ontario, Canada and Tadd Fujikawa of Honolulu, HI.
Ross entered day two at Stoney Creek with the ominous task of trying to follow up a course-record-tying round, following his 64 on Wednesday afternoon.
The former University of New Mexico standout began the second round in familiar form, birdieing two of his first three holes to move to 2-under on the day and 10-under overall. Five consecutive pars led to a birdie at the par-5 ninth, which gave Ross a 33 on the turn and an 11-under tally through 27 holes.
On the back nine, pars on Nos. 10 through 16 did little to push Ross up the leaderboard, while a bogey at the par-3 16th dropped him down to 10-under overall. A bounce-back birdie on No. 17 pushed him back to 3-under for the day, where he eventually finished for a second-round 69.
The Wintergreen event marks Ross’ seventh made cut in 14 starts on the year. The Minnesota native has two top-10s to his name, and is one week removed from a T20 finish at the Spring Creek Classic, where he held the first-round lead following a 6-under 65.
Burke, originally from New Hamburg, Ontario, has played 36 holes of bogey-free golf at Wintergreen, posting rounds of 65-68—133 to reach 11-under at the event’s halfway point. A 7-under 65 on Wednesday, capped off by a closing eagle at the par-5 ninth (his 18th), turned into a ho-hum Thursday, where Burke posted birdies on Nos. 3, 9, 11 and 17 for an error-free 68.
The former Eastern Michigan University star and two-time Canadian Amateur champion has been close to victory this year, posting three top-4 finishes, including a career-best runner-up effort at the River Run Classic.
Burke’s legend, so to speak, has grown into one similar to that of Mark Calcavecchia in his heyday. Looking for the guy in the field who can post 10 birdies in the blink of an eye and act like nothing happened? That’s probably Cam Burke.
The 7-under 65 in yesterday’s opening round marked his 11th round of 66 or better in 2012 alone. Burke’s runner-up at River Run arrived courtesy of a career-best 62 in the event’s opening round, carded on a golf course (River Run Country Club) that yields more nightmares than red numbers.
Fujikawa, who notched his lone eGolf Tour title at the 2010 Tour Championship just 45 minutes down the road in Gordonsville, VA, followed up a day one 69 with a bogey-free 64 on Thursday to vault up to 11-under. Through two rounds of play, Fujikawa has 13 birdies and a double-bogey to his name – the latter coming at the par-4 7th on Wednesday.
The 64 marks Fujikawa’s low round (to par) of the year, eclipsing a 7-under 64 carded at the Bolle Classic just two weeks ago. The round also ties Fujikawa’s career low on the eGolf Tour, dating back to a second-round 64 carded at Spring Creek Golf Club in 2010, site of his Tour Championship win.
The current Sea Island (GA) resident made a name for himself when, at the age of 15, he became the youngest competitor ever in a U.S. Open at the event’s 2006 edition, contested at famed Winged Foot. That record, which stood for six years, was eclipsed by 14-year-old Andy Zhang, who earned a spot in this year’s U.S. Open at The Olympic Club. While Fujikawa was 15 years and 5 months at the time he played in the U.S. Open, Zhang will not turn 15 until December 14th of this year.
The 36-hole cut fell at 3-under 141, with 36 players making it through to the final 36 holes of play. Third-round play in the Championship at Wintergreen Resort will begin at 7:30 AM on Friday morning, with players competing in threesomes off of Nos. 1 and 10 tees. The tournament is open to the public and free of charge.