Peter Malnati continues recent tear, takes early lead at Bermuda Championship

Peter Malnati is on a tear. On Thursday, he recorded his third round of 63 or better in his last three starts dating back to the final round of the Sanderson Farms Championship last month.

Yet after racking up nine birdies, including five in a row beginning at the ninth hole, Malnati’s first question from the press was about his lone bogey on his scorecard.

That was at the par-5 17th hole, where Malnati hit a lousy drive and squandered a chance to go even lower, but he didn’t let it phase him. He bounced back with a birdie at the closing hole to shoot 8-under 63 and grab a one-stroke lead over Ryan Armour and Doug Ghim after the first round of the Bermuda Championship at Port Royal Golf Club. Of the one blemish on his scorecard, Malnati said, “Got to be the easiest one on the course if you drive it well, and I made bogey. How can I complain about much? We’re on the island of Bermuda and I sure played great.”

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Indeed, he did. Malnati, 33, got off to a sluggish start with a couple of ho-hum pars until he rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt at the par-3, third.

“Just beautiful, right in the middle of the hole,” Malnati said. “I had two weeks off after the momentum in Sanderson and then at the Shriners, so to make that putt I’m like, all right, I’m picking right back up. So that first one was big.”

He added circles on the card at Nos. 3 and 6 before his string of birdies began at No. 9. Malnati, who excels with his wedge and putter, took just 24 putts on the day, and says his long game finally is hitting its stride.

“My strengths that have kept me on Tour for as long as I’ve been here have been wedges and short game and putting and I’ve worked hard to make sure that those are still sharp,” he said.

Malnati hadn’t recorded a top-10 finish since the 2019 Zurich Classic of New Orleans before notching back-to-back top-10s at Sanderson Farms (second) and the Shriners Children’s Hospital Open (T-5). He’s been known to emphasize the importance of patience to the young golfers he mentors in his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, but as his frustration grew with his own play, he found it tougher to practice what he preaches.

“I’m always telling them, hey, hard work pays off, it just doesn’t always pay off as quickly as you want it to. I give that advice, but I was getting very impatient with it myself,” he said.

Despite the bogey at 17, Malnati finished on a high note, carding one last birdie to claim the lead. He got a final emotional boost as he walked up the hill on No. 18 and noticed his wife, Alicia, and 1-year-old son, Hatcher, in his gallery.

“It just made my day,” he said. “I’m always in pretty good spirits, but to see them, and it’s the first time Hatcher’s on the golf course [this season]. He was with me in Mississippi, but he wasn’t allowed on site. It’s the first time he’s been on a golf course since The Players or before. So that was really awesome to see him. And to cap it off with a birdie, perfect ending to the day.

“I smile a lot, but nothing makes me smile quite like that. To see them and then to finish with that birdie, I’m a happy man right now.”

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