By Laury Livsey, PGA TOUR staff
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.— After a bogey-bogey start to begin his News Sentinel Open final round, Peter Malnati found himself not panicking and actually walking to the third tee as he said, “feeling good.” There was good reason. Malnati made a birdie on the fourth hole and off he went, making seven more birdies — including birdies on four of his final five holes — to win his first Web.com Tour event by a stroke over a quartet of players in front of a loud and appreciative crowd.
“I didn’t feel like I was going to win,” Malnati said after that first birdie of the day. “That was a thought that was not in my head.”
Apparently it should have been. Malnati, who lives in Dandridge, Tenn. —“58 minutes from door to door,” he said of his daily commute to Fox Den Country Club this week — thrilled the hometown fans when he drained a three-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to get him to 16-under. He watched Blayne Barber and Matt Bettencourt, playing in the final grouping, miss their chances at victory. When Barber’s putt didn’t drop, the win was Malnati’s, a victory that moved him from 80th to 16th on the money list and all but assured him his PGA TOUR playing privileges for the 2013-14 season.
“I’ve worked really hard, and I love doing this,” Malnati said following his 6-under 65 round. “The only thing that stresses me out is wondering am I going to have to play mini tours next year? And the answer to that is no.”
It’s been a steady progression for Malnati, who played golf at the University of Missouri, had no status on the Web.com Tour when the season began and had carved out Special Temporary Member status with his two top-10 finishes earlier in the season. All the hard work he’s put in this year showed this week as he improved his score each day after opening with a 1-under 70 Thursday. He followed that with a 67-66-65 finish.
Barber, a Monday qualifier who joined Bettencourt, Miguel Carballo and James White in the tie for second, was still pleased with what is a career-best Web.com Tour performance for the Lake City, Fla., native.
Barber went for the par-5 18th in two, but his approach landed in the rough fronting the green. “I had a lot of grass behind the ball and kind of chunked it a little bit on the chip shot,” he said of his eagle try. “Then I pushed my birdie putt.” Barber still moved from 151st to 84th on the money list with his $36,300 payday.
Bettencourt had a birdie putt on No. 18 that could have put him in a playoff, but his 30-footer missed, as well. Bettencourt was still positive about his week. “I played really good today and this week, and it was nice to see some good results,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been hitting it good for a month now. I hope to take it forward and see some positive results in Omaha.”
Malnati was still shaking his head 30 minutes after hoisting the crystal on the green and donning the orange jacket that goes to the winner. “This is my seventh event, and I think I finished in the top 25 in six of the seven. That’s good,” he explained. “I’m not saying that to pat myself on the back, but that’s hard to do, and I’m proud of that.”
This win is part of those six top-25 finishes, and it’s the finish he is going to remember, with it carrying some added significance since he did it at home. “To see the crowds get bigger and bigger and louder and louder as the week went on, I can’t tell you how cool it is to win this golf tournament.”
-- Officials used a two-tee start with players playing in threesomes for the final round. Heavy rain hit the area, and officials halted play at 11:18 a.m. as parts of Fox Den Country Club had become unplayable. The delay lasted until 1:45 p.m., a total of 2 hours, 27 minutes.
-- James White, a Web.com Tour rookie and Monday qualifier this week, had played in three career Web.com Tour events—missing the cut in all three. He played as an amateur in the Nationwide Hospital Children’s Invitational in 2011, and shot identical rounds of 74-70 at both the Chile Classic and Brasil Classic to miss the cuts in those early season events. After opening 69-68-66, he fired a final-round 68—including birdies on his final three holes—to tie for second. He moved to No. 103 on the money list.
-- The top-75 players following the Cox Classic will earn invites to the Web.com Tour’s four Finals events that will also feature 75 players Nos. 126-200 in the PGA TOUR FedExCup standings. Here is where players stood prior to the News Sentinel Open and where they sit now with one regular season event left to play:
-- The only past News Sentinel Open champion to make the cut of the four who played this week is Heath Slocum, who captured the title in Knoxville in 2001. Slocum tied for 30th.
-- First-round co-leader and current Web.com Tour money-list leader Michael Putnam tied for 30th after shooting a final-round, even-par 70. He remains the season money-list leader ($433,984) for the 11th consecutive week after taking over the top spot following his victory at the Mexico Championship in late May. He is $37,735 ahead of Ben Martin, who didn’t play this week.
-- Matt Bettencourt double-bogeyed his final hole of the first round, No. 9. After that, he reeled off 37 consecutive holes of bogey-free golf, including an opening birdie in the final round Sunday. His streak ended at 37 when he bogeyed his second hole of the day, No. 2 at Fox Den Country Club. He then started a new streak after his bogey, finishing with four birdies and 12 pars to end his round.
-- Mark Silvers (third and fourth rounds), Richard Scott (first and fourth), Ryan Nelson (second and fourth), Reid Edstrom (first and third) and Matt Bettencourt (second and third) were the only players to have two bogey-free rounds this week.
-- Corey Nagy (tied for 10th) recorded 22 birdies to lead the field in that category.
-- Bogey-free rounds (35)
First Round (8): Reid Edstrom, Ashley Hall, Kent Jones, J.J. Killeen, Whee Kim, Peter Lonard, Richard Scott and Nate Smith
Second Round (13): Steven Alker, Jason Allred, Matt Bettencourt, Kelly Kraft, Andrew Loupe, Peter Malnati, Ryan Nelson, James Nitties, Andrew Putnam, Derek Rende, Richard Scott, Ryan Spears, Roland Thatcher
Third Round (7): Mark Anderson, Matt Bettencourt, Reid Edstrom, Kevin Kisner, Fernando Mechereffe, Aron Price and Mark Silvers
Fourth Round (7): Blayne Barber, Michael Connell, Ryan Nelson, Richard Scott, Mark Silvers, Heath Slocum, Tim Wilkinson