With Q-School on His Mind, Malnati Sets Early Pace at Cabarrus Classic with First-Round 64
By Stewart Moore
Concord, NC – Peter Malnati of Dandridge, TN somewhat came into his own on the eGolf Tour this year, notching his first career win and solidifying his spot inside the top 10 on the tour’s money list with over $53,000 in earnings thus far. The upcoming month, however, will be vital for Malnati, as he joins the masses at PGA TOUR Q-School with the hope of playing his way onto golf’s largest stage in 2013. On Wednesday at the tour’s Cabarrus Classic, Malnati began his fall charge in ideal fashion, posting a first-round 64 to grab the early lead through 18 holes of the 54-hole event.
The Cabarrus Classic is the 20th event of the 2012 eGolf Tour season and is being contested this week at Cabarrus Country Club in Concord, NC.
Malnati began his opening round with an up-and-down for birdie at the reachable par-5 first, then added another birdie at the short par-4 fourth to reach 2-under par on the classic George Cobb-designed Cabarrus course. Pars on Nos. 5 and 6 kept him at 2-under through a third of his round, which made Malnati feel as though he was losing ground early on.
“I think you can go low on this course if you’re playing well,” said Malnati, 25. “When I’m in situations like that, and I don’t start making a lot of birdies, I tend to get frustrated – but today, I managed to stay patient and let it come to me.”
Birdies on Nos. 7 and 8 jumpstarted his round and put the former University of Missouri golfer at 4-under on the turn. A birdie at the par-5 11th took Malnati’s day one tally to 5-under, but then gave way to a four-hole stretch of pars from No. 12 through 15.
Starting with the uphill par-4 16th, Malnati closed in stellar fashion, posting birdies on each of his final three holes to polish off a back-nine 32 for his 8-under 64 and the first-round lead. The 64 marked his sixth round of 65 or better on the year, and was one shot shy of his career-best 63, posted twice in 2012 at both the Championship at St. James Plantation and the Championship at Wintergreen Resort.
The 9-under 63 at Wintergreen came in the event’s second round, and led to a 21-under total that delivered a maiden eGolf Tour title to Malnati. The win was part of Malnati’s breakthrough 2012 campaign, which has featured four top-4 finishes and $53,847 in earnings. After missing two of his first three cuts on the year, he has made 11 straight cuts entering Cabarrus Classic week, which sits just one month shy of the most important stretch of the year: PGA TOUR Q-School.
“When you’re playing a developmental tour throughout the year, you feel like you have eight months of preseason and then comes Q-School, which is the regular season,” he said.
After turning professional in 2009, Malnati advanced to the second stage of Q-School before failing to move on to finals. The following year, he again played his way into second stage, just one step shy of some form of status for the 2011 season, but yet again did not make it to finals. In 2011, a disappointed Malnati bowed out in first stage, which left him eager to rebound in 2012 on the eGolf Tour.
“Q-School is definitely on my mind. Even through some tough rounds over the past few months, you always tell yourself that you have to keep it together,” he said. “The only thing that matters is having a chance to advance through at Q-School. I work really hard on this, so it’s very important for me to be playing well at the right time.”
If nothing else, the easy-going Malnati has been playing his best golf over the past four months, priming for the Q-School pressure cooker. Over his last 36 rounds on the eGolf Tour, dating back to his third-place finish at St. James, Malnati has posted just three rounds over par, with 18 of the 36 rounds being in the 60s.
“Out here, you feel like you have to be the guy who is shooting low each and every round in order to win,” said Malnati. “With Q-School, it’s a completely different deal as you just have to play four ‘good’ rounds. If you get to finals, four becomes six, and you just have to keep playing solid.”
Malnati will go to the Callaway Gardens Resort in Pine Mountain, GA for the first stage of Q-School next month. In October of 2010, the eGolf Tour contested the Callaway Gardens Championship at the former PGA TOUR host – Malnati finished T16.
Ryan Gildersleeve of Clearwater, FL and Wes Homan of Cincinnati, OH are tied for second, one shot back of Malnati with matching rounds of 7-under 65.
The 31-year-old Gildersleeve had one of the day’s more up-and-down rounds, posting 10 birdies and three bogeys en route to his 7-under effort. The 65 marked a season-low (to par) for Gildersleeve, whose prior low was a 6-under 65 in the opening round of the Southern Open in July.
Gildersleeve has been one of the tour’s most consistent performers in 2012, racking up $42,680 in earnings to sit at No. 12 on the money list. The former University of South Alabama golfer has made 11 of 14 cuts with six top-10 finishes and an impressive three top-5 finishes – including third-place efforts at the Forest Oaks Classic in April and the Wintergreen event in June.
At Forest Oaks, Gildersleeve finished the three-round event at 11-under 205, just one shot back of a Clint Jensen/Lanto Griffin playoff. Rounds of 68-68 put him two shots off the lead entering the final round, and in the day’s last threesome, but nine pars to open his round put him on the outside looking in with nine holes to play. Four birdies on his back nine, including birdies at 16 and 18, gave him a final-round 69 and the solo-third-place finish – a career best.
Homan’s day began in less-than-ideal fashion with a bogey at the short par-4 10th to quickly fall to 1-over on the round. From there, however, he rebounded admirably with birdies at 11, 12 and 13 on his way to a 3-under 33 on his outward nine (the course’s back nine). Birdies on Nos. 1 and 3 took him further into the red at 5-under for the day, while birdies on Nos. 6 and 8 pushed him to 7-under par, where he eventually finished following a par at the last. The 65 marked a career low on the eGolf Tour for Homan, dating back to the start of the 2008 season.
The former Southern Methodist University golfer, a member of the 2012 eGolf Tour, is back in Charlotte this week in preparation for next week’s Chiquita Classic on the Web.com Tour – to be contested just south of town at the Longview Club in Weddington, NC. Homan finished T10 at the event’s 2011 edition, which was contested in his native Cincinnati prior to the company moving it’s corporate headquarters to Charlotte.
Gator Todd of St. Simons Island, GA, Stefan Wiedergruen of Germany and Rob Bennett of Augusta, GA are tied for fourth, two shots behind Malnati at 6-under through day one.
Second-round play in the Cabarrus Classic will begin at 8:00 AM on Thursday morning at Cabarrus Country Club. Following the conclusion of 36 holes, the field will be cut to the low 33 percent and ties for Friday’s final round. The tournament is open to the public and free of charge.