Malnati Reaches 19-under at Wintergreen, Now 18 Holes Away From First eGolf Tour Title
By Stewart Moore
Wintergreen, VA – After suffering through three near-misses in the first half of the 2012 eGolf Tour season, Peter Malnati of Dandridge, TN is on the precipice of breaking through for his first career title. The former University of Missouri golfer has posted rounds of 68-63-66—197 to reach 19-under heading into Saturday’s final round of the inaugural Championship at Wintergreen Resort, and looks poised to capitalize on his stellar play through 54 holes.
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 entered Friday’s third round on the heels of a course-record 63, posted during Thursday’s second round of play. The 9-under effort on day two pushed Malnati to 13-under at the event’s halfway point, and gave him a two shot lead over Cam Burke and Travis Ross heading into day three.
On Friday morning, a birdie at the par-5 first put Malnati in a good place, pushing him up to 14-under for the event and further into the lead.
At the par-4 third, a short miss for par left a usually-confident Malnati a bit frazzled and wondering if the rare blunder was a sign of bad things to come.
“That miss rattled me a little bit, absolutely,” said Malnati, 25. “My first thought was, ‘Here we go again.’ But, I was able to calm myself down and bounce back on the next hole.”
That bounce back came in the form of a birdie at the par-4 fourth, which took him back to 14-under overall. At the par-5 ninth, Malnati – citing a weakness in his long iron play – benched his 4-iron for a 3-hyrbrid, and flushed his approach to 3 feet to set up a tap-in eagle.
The eagle gave Malnati a 3-under 33 on the turn, and led into a solid closing nine, where he birdied 13, 15 and 17 to finish off a third-round 66 to vault up to 19-under, two clear of his nearest competitor.
“I’m playing well. I’ve had great control with my irons, and just have that feeling that I can go at any pin,” said Malnati, who referenced being in the zone following Thursday’s record-setting round.
In his third full season on the eGolf Tour, Malnati looks poised to finally notch his first tour win. The 2012 season, more than any other, has provided a collection of near misses for the Tennessee native.
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.
Just two weeks ago, he opened the tour’s Bole Classic with rounds 65-70-66—201 to place himself two shots behind 54-hole leader Cam Burke heading into the event’s final round, but closed with a 2-under 69 to finish T4.
The Bolle Classic finish gave Malnati three top-4 finishes on the year – an impressive stat for a player who posted just one in his first 23 starts on the eGolf Tour prior to the St. James event.
“This golf course, the way it’s playing, anything can happen tomorrow. I’m planning to stay relaxed and just have fun,” he said. “If I play the way I’ve played the last few days, and make someone have to shoot 61 to catch me, I’ll still be pretty satisfied.”
Malnati’s theory is a good one, until you consider that Cam Burke of Ontario, Canada is the player in solo second, two shots back at 17-under 199.
Burke, a two-time Canadian Amateur champion who hails from New Hamburg, Ontario, has amazingly played bogey-free golf through 54 holes at Wintergreen, posting rounds of 65-68-66 to reach his 17-under mark.
On Friday morning, Burke birdied his first two holes for a fast start, then finished off his opening nine with birdies on Nos. 7 and 9 to post a 4-under 32.
A birdie at the long par-4 10th pushed Burke to 5-under on the round, but also gave way to a six-hole par stretch, which eventually culminated with a birdie at the par-5 17th to reach 6-under. A par at the last gave Burke a 6-under 66 on the day, and a spot alongside Malnati in Saturday’s final threesome.
Like Malnati, the former Eastern Michigan University star has been close to victory this year, posting three top-4 finishes, including a career-best runner-up effort at the River Run Classic.
The 6-under 66 in Friday’s round marked Burke’s 12th round of 66 or better in 2012 alone. At the River Run Classic in March, Burke posted a career-best 62 in the event’s opening round on his way to the aforementioned second-place finish. His propensity for posting low numbers gives Burke added “street cred” as the player who just might toss up a closing 61 to catch Malnati.
In solo-third place is Chesson Hadley of Raleigh, NC. Hadley, a three-time “All America” selection during a standout career at Georgia Tech, has rounds of 67-68-65—200 under his belt, and is at 16-under par entering the final round, just three shots behind Malnati.
Hadley’s third round was of the odd variety. The former Yellow Jacket standout posted nine birdies and one double-bogey – at the par-4 sixth – en route to a 7-under 65.
Hadley birdied three of his first four holes prior to the hiccup on No. 6, then rallied with five birdies in a row on Nos. 8 through 12 to reach 6-under for the day. A birdie at the par-4 14th took him to 7-under, which is where he finished after pars on Nos. 15 through 18 left him with his low round of the week.
Similar to Malnati and Burke, Hadley has had close calls as well this year, posting top-5 finishes at the Oldfield Open, Pine Needles Classic and Championship at St. James Plantation. His year has been a study in consistency with 12 made cuts in 13 starts, and $37,710 in earnings to sit at No. 8 on the money list. Chris Epperson (No. 3) is the only player ranked higher than Hadley on the tour’s money list without a win on the year.
To take that statistic a bit further, there are only four players inside the top 12 on the eGolf Tour money list without a win, and three of those four will be in Saturday’s final pairing. While Hadley sits at No. 8 on the list, Malnati and Burke are not far behind with earnings of $33,287 (No. 11) and $32,923 (No. 12), respectively.
Final-round play in the Championship at Wintergreen Resort will begin at 7:30 AM on Saturday morning, with players competing in threesomes off of Nos. 1 and 10 tees. The tournament is open to the public and free of charge.