With an Eye on Q-School’s Second Stage, Malnati Grabs Early Lead at Forest Oaks
By Stewart Moore
Greensboro, NC – After successfully advancing to the second stage of PGA TOUR Q-School via a T15 finish at Callaway Gardens Resort in Pine Mountain, GA last week, Peter Malnati entered this week’s Forest Oaks Open with the hope of keeping his good play intact. The former University of Missouri star more than delivered on day one, posting eight birdies amidst cold temperatures en route to a 7-under 65, and the overnight lead heading into Thursday’s second round.
The Forest Oaks Open is the 23rd of 24 scheduled events on the 2012 eGolf Tour schedule, and is being contested this week at Forest Oaks Country Club in Greensboro, NC.
Malnati’s week began in less than ideal fashion, as his commute from his home in Dandridge, TN involved a trek through the snow-laced roads in the mountains of both Tennessee and North Carolina, courtesy of Hurricane Sandy.
“I didn’t get here until late last night, then came out this morning and was freezing my butt off,” said Malnati, who played in the day’s first threesome at 8:30 AM. “I just wanted to be solid. Try and hit a lot of greens, and not really do anything fancy or special. Sometimes it’s a game of expectations.”
Starting on the back nine at Forest Oaks – host of the PGA TOUR’s Wyndham Championship for over 30 years – Malnati adjusted slowly to the freezing-cold temperatures which placed a half-hour frost delay on the start of play. Pars on Nos. 10, 11 and 12 eased him into what would be a serious red-figure day for the former Tiger standout.
“It’s funny to say, but it was a birdie at No. 13 that really got my day going,” said Malnati, 25. “It was playing about 194, and – I don’t care if you print this – I had to hit a real good hybrid to get it there. I hit it 15 feet past the hole, made the putt, then got my round going.”
The birdie at 13 gave way to birdies on 14 and 15, which turned into late birdies on 17 and 18 to give Malnati a 5-under 31 at the turn.
Pars on Nos. 1 and 2 led to birdies on Nos. 3 and 4, which moved Malnati to 7-under on the day through 13 holes – a stellar pace given the January-like temperatures that blanketed the arduous layout.
With the weather, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and that shots were going to play a lot longer,” he said. “I just wanted to stay patient and play smart.”
At the par-3 seventh (his 16th) Malnati suffered his first blemish of the opening round when a three-putt bogey from 9 feet dropped him back to 6-under on the day. The error, however, would be erased two holes later when he closed out his Wednesday effort with a birdie at the tough par-4 ninth, in turn finishing with a 7-under 65.
“If something didn’t feel right, I didn’t hit it. I just played very conservatively. It was definitely a pleasant surprise to see the number as low as it was at the end of the day,” said Malnati, who can hide his competitive nature at times with his ‘aw shucks’ demeanor.
Malnati’s 2012 campaign on the eGolf Tour has been of the breakthrough variety, with his first win coming at the Championship at Wintergreen Resort in June, and five additional top-4 finishes being scattered through the year – all resulting in $61,672 in earnings to sit at No. 5 on the money list.
“At the beginning of the year, I made a big list of goals – one of which was to have multiple wins on this tour,” said Malnati. “I have one win, but I’d really like to get a second so I can check that off my list.”
The Forest Oaks Open, coming just two weeks before the start of second stage, is serving as a warm-up to some for one of the year’s most important weeks. All players who advance from second stage to final stage will have at worst conditional status on the 2013 Web.com Tour, while the top 25 and ties from final stage will play alongside the game’s best on the PGA TOUR next year.
“I’m trying to accomplish my goal of two wins, but the most important thing for me is to be ready for second stage. I’ve been working hard on my pre-shot routine, and trying to limit the number of times I look at the target when I’m over the ball. I tend to over-do it sometimes, so I really want to get my routine where it should be,” he said. “I’m going to be feeling it the next few days as I’ll be near the top, so it should be a great test to see where I’m at.”
Trailing Malnati by one shot after a first-round 66 is Josh Brock of Wilmington, NC, who played flawless, bogey-free golf on day one with six birdies against 12 pars. The former UNC Wilmington standout posted birdies on Nos. 3, 4, 6 and 7, then added late birdies on 16 and 18 for his 6-under effort on day one.
Much like Malnati, Brock came into his own in 2012, earning his first win at The Championship at St. James Plantation in April, and adding two additional top-3s en route to a top-10 standing on the money list.
At St. James, Brock trailed Malnati by one shot entering the final round in what could best be described as a hometown event, as it took place just 30 minutes from Wilmington. The former Seahawk standout rose to the occasion in the final round, dropping a clutch eagle putt on the 71st hole on his way to a closing 68 and a three-shot victory over Malnati and Shawn Jasper.
In solo-third place at 5-under par is former Web.com Tour member Jonathan Fricke of Covington, GA, who posted six birdies in the opening round for a 66 on day one.
Fricke, who won the prestigious Georgia Open this past August, is just six weeks removed from a runner-up finish at the eGolf Tour’s Championship at Star Fort – his best finish since winning the 2007 Stonebridge Classic.
eGolf Tour newcomer Bruce Woodall of Yanceyville, NC is alone in fourth place after a 4-under 68.
Second-round play in the Forest Oaks Open will begin at 8:30 AM on Thursday morning. The tournament is open to the public and free of charge.