Golf roundup: Peter Malnati earns first Masters trip with Valspar Championship victory

AP photo by Chris O'Meara / Peter Malnati celebrates after winning the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship on Sunday in Palm Harbor, Fla.
AP photo by Chris O'Meara / Peter Malnati celebrates after winning the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship on Sunday in Palm Harbor, Fla.

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Some of the shots that left Peter Malnati frustrated on the back nine of the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook were the ones that worked out so well for him Sunday in the Valspar Championship.

A putt he thought he left short dropped for a birdie on the 12th hole. A shot into mangled rough on the 16th was close enough to a sprinkler that he was entitled to a free drop that put him on the fringe and made par easier.

But there was no doubting the winner.

Locked in a battle with hard-luck Cameron Young, Malnati drilled a 5-iron shot into the wind to six feet from the cup on the par-3 17th for a birdie to break out of a tie, and he closed with a par for a 4-under 67 to win by two and earn his first trip to the Masters.

"I remember telling my caddie I needed to make a 2," said Malnati, a 32-year-old Knoxville resident. "That was really fun in that moment to just step up, not overthink it, just a full 5-iron at the TV tower, go. And to watch that ball fly was a really cool feeling."

Malnati tapped in that yellow golf ball for par on the final hole for only his second PGA Tour victory. Young, who made it easier on him by taking a bogey on the final hole for a 68, now has seven runner-up finishes without a win.

Chattanooga native Keith Mitchell was left frustrated for the second Sunday in a row, but the reasons were different.

After finishing last among those who made the cut a week earlier at The Players Championship, he entered Sunday at Innisbrook with a two-shot lead thanks to a magnificent finish to his third round that included an eagle on the par-4 18th. The 32-year-old former Baylor School and University of Georgia standout was trying to add a second PGA Tour victory to his Honda Classic title from March 2019.

When he made the turn Sunday, he was three behind. He had to pitch out of the trees three times on the opening six holes and did not have a hole under par until an eagle on the 14th, and by then he was 8 over for his round. He wound up shooting a 77 and tied for 17th at 4 under.

On a wild day of rallies and meltdowns, it came down to Malnati and Young playing a group apart as they headed into the tough finishing stretch at Innisbrook known as the "Snake Pit."

Malnati's approach on the 16th went long and left into gnarly rough some 50 feet from the pin, leaving him a tough chip to try to save par and stay tied. But his foot was on a sprinkler head, which entitled him to a free drop. With the extra club length, he was able to drop it on the fringe and use his putter, and he sent the ball down to short range for par.

On the par-3 17th into wind, Malnati hit his most important shot of the day for a birdie. Up ahead, Young hit his drive well left and did well to hammer a gap wedge over the trees and onto the green, 50 feet away. He lagged it about 10 feet short and missed the par putt.

Malnati found a fairway bunker on the 18th, but he hit his next shot onto the green for a simple two-putt finish and wrapped up the 72-hole tournament at 12-under 272. It was his first victory since the Sanderson Farms Championship in November 2015.

Malnati's payday was $1,512,000. He'll also be there when the first major of the year tees off on April 11 at Augusta National, and he gets a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. He also is assured of getting into the tour's remaining four $20 million signature events this year without any help.

"I told myself to do my best on every shot," Malnati said as he fought back tears. "I was so nervous coming down the stretch. I can't describe it. It's so cool."

Canada's Mackenzie Hughes (70) and PGA Tour rookie Chandler Phillips (69) tied for third. They were among five players who had at least a share of the lead in the final round.

"You wonder if you're ever going to do it again," Malnati said. "In the nine years since my last win, it's getting harder."

  photo  AP photo by Chris O'Meara / Peter Malnati holds up his trophy after winning the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship on Sunday in Palm Harbor, Fla. He won for the first time since 2015 and earned the first Masters berth of his career.

Korda revives quickly

PALOS VERDES ESTATES, Calif. — Nelly Korda made bogeys on her final two holes of regulation at Palos Verdes Golf Club to fall into a playoff but atoned for it quickly, making a 12-foot birdie putt to beat Ryann O'Toole in the LPGA Tour's Seri Pak Championship and return to No. 1 in the Women's World Golf Rankings.

Korda, who closed with a 2-under 69, won for the second time this year, with both triumphs involving surprising collapses and amazing revivals.

"I'm aging myself really quickly out here," said the 25-year-old American, who will replace Lilia Vu at No. 1 in the world.

Korda won the Drive On Championship in Florida in late January, dropping four shots in three holes on the back nine only to rally with an eagle-birdie finish to beat Lydia Ko.

Playing for the first time since that victory — she skipped the tour's three-tournament swing through Asia, giving her nearly two months off — Korda seized control on the back nine Sunday by smashing a fairway metal up the hill on the par-5 14th. The ball caught a slope at the back of the green and rolled down to 18 feet, and she made the eagle putt.

O'Toole holed a 20-foot par putt on the 18th for a 66, and that looked to be good only for second place. But then Korda came up short of the par-3 17th and missed a six-foot par putt, and she went long on the 18th and made another bogey.

They finished at 9-under 275 in the 72-hole event, and the playoff ended quickly. O'Toole hit a 7-iron from the right rough to about 15 feet, and her birdie putt burned the edge of the cup. Korda hit an 8-iron to 12 feet, then poured it in for the 10th LPGA Tour win of her career.

Gabriela Ruffels (70) and Alison Lee (72) tied for third.

  photo  AP photo by Ryan Sun / Nelly Korda hits from a bunker toward the 17th green during the final round of the LPGA Tour's Seri Pak Championship on Sunday in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. Korda won the tournament on the first hole of a playoff.

Harrington by one

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Padraig Harrington won the Hoag Classic at windy Newport Beach Country Club for his seventh PGA Tour Champions victory, with the 52-year-old Irishman rebounding from a double bogey with birdies on the final two holes.

After driving left into trouble and dropping two strokes on the par-4 16th, Harrington made a downhill 15-footer on the par-3 17th and got an eight-footer to fall on the par-5 18th for a one-stroke victory over Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee.

Harrington closed with a 2-under 69 to finish the 54-hole event at 14-under 199. He will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in June, with his success before joining the 50-and-older tour including back-to-back British Open titles in 2007-08 and a win at the 2008 PGA Championship.

Jaidee also had a closing 69, parring the 18th after leaving his approach short and pitching through the green.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, the Spaniard playing alongside Harrington and Jaidee in the final group, bogeyed the 17th in a 68 that left him two strokes back. He finished alone in third, with Stephen Ames fourth at 11 under after a 67.

Rookie's first win

SINGAPORE — Jesper Svensson earned his first DP World Tour victory by beating Kiradech Aphibarnrat in a playoff at the Singapore Classic.

The 28-year-old from Sweden tapped in for a par at the par-5 18th and the victory on the third playoff hole at Laguna National, winning as Aphibarnrat had to settle for a bogey after his third shot rolled off the green and down the slope at the back.

Svensson shot a 9-under 63 in the final round to match the course record, one better than his Thai opponent, with both finishing at 17-under 271 in 72 holes of regulation to force the playoff.

Both players made birdies on the first playoff hole, then matched par scores on the second before the decisive third trip up the 18th. Svensson is a rookie on the Europe-based circuit who won once on the developmental Challenge Tour, earning that victory last May before stepping up to the DP World Tour this year.

"It's been a lot of good golf, so it was nice to finally come out on top," Svensson said. "It's very hard to win, so it's really nice. It's been a long journey. To win on my first season out here, I couldn't have dreamt of it. It's always been a dream to be a winner... and to achieve it feels amazing."

Upcoming Events