Updated: Malnati Wins First eGolf Tour Title at Tour’s Inaugural Championship at Wintergreen Resort
By Stewart Moore
Wintergreen, VA – Peter Malnati of Dandridge, TN entered the final round of the eGolf Tour’s Championship at Wintergreen Resort with a two-shot lead following rounds of 68-63-66—197 (19-under) and promptly birdied his first three holes en route to a closing 70 that gave the former University of Missouri star a 21-under total, his first career eGolf Tour title, and the event’s $16,000 first-place prize.
The Championship at Wintergreen Resort was the 14th of 24 scheduled events on the 2012 eGolf Tour schedule, and was contested this week at Wintergreen’s Stoney Creek Golf Club (Monocan/Shamokin) in Wintergreen, VA.
When Malnati woke up on Saturday morning, eyeing his first career title, he wondered if there would even be a final round. Strong storms and a cell classified as a mini-tornado swept through much of the mid-Atlantic region on Friday night, causing massive power outages throughout Virginia and up to Maryland.
The storm, which featured winds in excess of 70 miles per hour, wreaked havoc on top of the mountain at Wintergreen Resort, as well as at the base, where the course at Stoney Creek was located. Maintenance crews worked throughout the morning to prepare the course for play – clearing debris and fallen trees. With tee times delayed by 2.5 hours, Malnati felt fortunate just to be able to compete.
“To be honest, when I woke up, I thought I may have already won the tournament,” Malnati told tour president David Siegel. “I had a tree fall on the house I was staying in and hundreds were down on the roads, so I wasn’t sure if we could even get here.”
Once onsite, Malnati began to take care of business. Birdies on the first three holes expanded the gap between him and playing partners Cam Burke of Ontario, Canada and Chesson Hadley of Raleigh, NC, who began the day two- and three-shots back, respectively.
Malnati’s final-round start looked electric on paper, but felt rather hollow to the man trying to secure his first tour title.
“I was happy to birdie those first three holes, but those were some loose swings,” said Malnati, 25. “Fortunately, I was able to scrape a few out to get the round going with some red numbers early on. It was just weird though, because I wasn’t comfortable over any of those shots. I just didn’t feel quite all together with it.”
Malnati’s fast start was offset by a bogey at the par-4 seventh when he short-sided himself, but with a 2-under 34 on the turn and a 21-under total overall, he headed to the back nine with a three-shot lead over both Hadley and Burke.
On the closing nine at Stoney Creek, the final round turned into a match play event of sorts, with Malnati doing battle against good friend Hadley following a double-bogey by Burke at the par-3 12th.
Malnati’s lead over Hadley shrunk to one when he played Nos. 10 through 12 in 1-over par, which paled in comparison to Hadley’s par-par-birdie effort over that same stretch. At 20-under with just six holes to play, however, Malnati’s lead never shrank.
“Every shot looked more difficult to me than they had all week,” he said. “I just kept trying to tell myself to have a plan on each shot and go hit it.”
The two friends, who shared jokes and conversations in between shots, matched scorecards hole-for-hole on Nos. 13 through 17, culminating in two-putt birdies on the par-5 17th that took Malnati to 21-under and Hadley to 20-under heading to the par-4 18th.
“I did a pretty good job of trying to ignore Chesson on the back nine,” Malnati said. “We’re good friends, but I was just trying to ignore his shots and worry about what I was doing. I just wanted to do my thing.”
First to play from the right rough, Malnati hit his approach 20 feet left of the middle-right hole location, while Hadley tried to spin a wedge off the green’s back hill, only to watch the ball trickle a mere 3 feet to leave himself 25 feet above the hole.
Hadley, facing a curling birdie putt to tie, ran his attempt 3 feet past the hole, setting up a simple two-putt par for Malnati. With residents of the stunning mountain resort looking on, Malnati lagged his lengthy birdie putt to 2 feet, and tapped in for a closing 70 and his first career win.
“You know, that 2-foot par putt at the last wasn’t stressful, it was the 17 holes prior to that that that made me nervous,” Malnati said. “I was feeling it out there. I was trying really hard to try and fight those thoughts and just hit golf shots.”
The $16,000 first-place check moved Malnati’s 2012 earnings up to $49,287, which place him at No. 4 on the tour’s money list.
The finish – his fourth top-4 of the season – further continues a breakthrough year for Malnati. After missing two of his first three cuts on the year, Malnati has now made eight consecutive cuts, including four top-4 finishes – one win, and three near misses.
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 Bolle 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.
“To get this win, you know, no one really knows the future, but I feel like this could open the doors a little bit,” said Malnati. “I’m hoping, next time I’m in contention, this experience will make it a little easier.”
Hadley’s final-round 68 gave him a 20-under 268 total and the third runner-up finish of his two-year eGolf Tour career. The $9,000 payday moved the former Georgia Tech star’s 2012 earnings up to $46,710, good for fifth on the tour’s money list.
Hadley, one of college golf’s more heralded players as a three-time Yellow Jacket “All America” selection, nearly won in just his second start as a professional at the tour’s Bushnell Championship in June of 2010. The affable Hadley went toe-to-toe with current PGA TOUR members Jason Kokrak and Tommy Biershenk, falling one shot shy of Kokrak on the event’s 72nd hole.
Since then, Hadley has provided a bevy of close calls, including a runner-up at the 2011 Samanah Classic in Morocco, and three other top-3 finishes in 2011 and 2012 alone. Hadley is one of just two players inside the top 10 on the eGolf Tour money list without a win this year. Chris Epperson, at No. 3 on the list, is the other.
Cam Burke, Tadd Fujikawa of Honolulu, HI and Ryan Gildersleeve of Clearwater, FL each finished T3 on the week, three shots behind Malnati at 18-under 270. Each player earned $5,166 for their efforts.
Following the double-bogey at 12, Burke rallied with birdies on 13 and 14 to move back to 18-under, but faltered again with a bogey at the par-3 16th to drop back to 17-under and out of the hunt. A late birdie at 17 enabled the former Eastern Michigan University star to close with a 71 for his fourth top-4 finish of the 2012 season.
Burke, currently 11th on the tour’s money list with $38,089 in earnings, posted a career-best runner-up finish at the tour’s River Run Classic in March, courtesy of a career-best 62 in the event’s opening round. The New Hamburg, Ontario native has since added T4 finishes at the Forest Oaks Classic and Bolle Classic, as well as the T3 at Wintergreen.
One of Saturday’s more exciting moves was made by former Nationwide Tour player Tim O’Neal of Savannah, GA.
O’Neal entered the final round eight shots behind Malnati on the heels of a 71-68-66 start to his week. A hole-out for eagle at the par-5 first foreshadowed his next four hours of golf, which represented the epitome of a rollercoaster round.
Birdies on Nos. 2, 7 and 9 gave O’Neal a 4-under 32 on his outward nine and pushed him up to 15-under for the week, still well behind Malnati.
A birdie at the par-4 11th took O’Neal to the scenic par-3 12th – site of Burke’s title-crushing double-bogey. With a 9-iron in hand from 160 yards, O’Neal hit a flawless shot into the bowl section of the green where the pin was located, and watched as it trickled in for a timely hole-in-one that vaulted him up to 18-under par – just two shots behind Malnati with six holes to play.
Those six holes, however, were not kind to O’Neal, as bogeys at the par-5 13th and the par-4 14th dropped him back down to 16-under for the week, and out of contention. A birdie at the par-5 17th gave him a final-round 66, and a career-best-tying T6 finish on the week.
O’Neal, one of golf’s more well-known stories after a few near misses at PGA TOUR Q-School, was one of four players selected to represent the tour as an eGolf Tour ambassador to the country of Morocco this spring. In doing so, O’Neal ventured to the North African country to compete in European Tour and Atlas Pro Tour events. The former Jackson State star won three times in a span of five weeks, and helped to resurrect what was once one of the more promising careers in golf.
• The tour would like to thank Stoney Creek Director of Golf Geoff Redgrave and his staff for their fantastic efforts in making this first-year event such a success. Tireless hours were put in by Head Agronomist/Golf Course Superintendent Fred Biggers and his crew in presenting an immaculate course for the week, and for clearing the course for final-round play after the Friday night storms. Thanks to his staff, the event was able to be a full 72 holes as scheduled. A special thanks goes to the members of Stoney Creek, who allowed the tour use of their course for the week, and who came out in masses to help with volunteering.
• The tour will take next week off before returning to action for the Southern Open in Kannapolis, NC on July 11-14, 2012.