VEDRA PONTE BEACH, FLORIDA – All produced cuts are not created equal.
Scottie Scheffler, golf’s hottest player, needed two more rounds to get his game going.
Rory McIlroy, the 2019 Players champion, saw it as another opportunity to hone his skills ahead of the year’s first major.
And it meant another chance for world No. 277, Peter Malnati, to prove himself. On this nefarious path. Against this glitzy backdrop.
His career has been steady yet unremarkable. Eight years, $5.7 million in the bank, and a single victory in 2015 at Sanderson Farms on the opposite side of the track. Four times he’s finished outside the top 125 in FedExCup points, but he’s preserved his card in all but one of those instances. His top-10 percentage in his career is 0.04 percent. He’s competed in 15 events this year but hasn’t accomplished much (three top-25s).
Malnati is 34 years old, has a young family, and is striving to make the most of his professional life. He had never made the cut in a major or the Players Championship (0 for 6). Malnati had been elevated to a new position, co-chairman of the Player Advisory Council, after his best year as a pro, and now he was looking to take the next step inside the ropes, however little.
There was no reason to anticipate he’d be able to join the board this week. He hadn’t finished higher than 25th since the fall, and he was about to race on a punishing, rain-softened track while also hitting it short (126th in distance) and crooked (196th in accuracy). He played five holes in Thursday’s first round at TPC Sawgrass before being escorted off the course with the rest of the early starters due to poor weather. He played far into sunset after waiting through a four-hour delay, deciding with playing companions Alex Noren and Anirban Lahiri that they’d rather traverse the par-5 ninth in the dark than set their alarm for 3:30 a.m. for a single hole .
If they could even do it with the bleak prediction, that is. Malnati stopped and started his way to a 2-under 70, which matched his previous best around here.
At the very least, their perseverance was rewarded.
On Friday, Malnati didn’t even bring his clubs to TPC Sawgrass; his only time there was to eat lunch. He responded, “They feed us fairly well here.” Aside from that, he spent calories chasing after his two-and-a-half-year-old son, Hatcher. He packed his clubs on Saturday, but simply to get his body moving on the range. In the 35-mph gusts, he hit a few balls and then watched from the gym as players in the late-early wave faced the terrible weather.
Malnati remarked, “I wouldn’t want that on anyone.” “When they restarted, I saw the first two groups play 17 and thought to myself, ‘This isn’t fair.’ However, golf can be fundamentally unfair at times. We’ve got waves. We have a lot of bounces. I’m quite sure I got lucky with this one.”
Malnati finally struck another competitive shot on Sunday morning, over 60 hours later. Although the wind had died down, scoring was still tough in the 25-degree wind chills. He made the turn three strokes above the predicted cut line, mixing two birdies with two bogeys.
But he soon became agitated. He scored double bogey on the 10th hole after hitting his tee shot into the right woods.
He admitted, “I was a little rattled.” “I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not, but the cut lines still bother me out here.” They are important to me. This is a major for me in every sense of the word. “All I wanted to do was hang out for the weekend and be a part of it.”
Malnati improved his chances with a birdie on the short 12th hole, but he quickly lost it – and then another – with back-to-back bogeys on 13 and 14. His excellent first round was suddenly forgotten. He was 1 over par with the soggy final stretch to play, just on the cut line for the top 65 and ties. He was the deciding factor because he was one of the last players on the course.
He admitted, “I was obviously reeling a little bit.” “We golfers usually say stuff like staying present and one stroke at a time and all that, but we don’t really mean it.” The entire time, I was thinking about the cut.”
-2 entering No. 17.
+2 exiting No. 17.
The cutline has moved to +2 after Scott Piercy's quadruple bogey. pic.twitter.com/tlsJHAsAkk
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 13, 2022
Then something unexpected happened. Malnati began purging it.
On 15, a stress-free approach to 19 feet.
On 16, a two-putt par was made.
On the perilous 17th, a short iron to 9 feet.
“I really got into each and every shot, and I think I gave it my all on every stroke,” he added. “I was very pleased with myself.”
The dogleg-left, 436-yard 18th hole, which played nearly a stroke over par in the second round, remained the course’s most difficult hole. His tee shot barely made it into the right pine straw, 185 yards out, as he played away from the sea. He one-handed a semi-shank that expired in thick rough 35 yards from the flag, his ball sitting uncomfortably in his hands. His pitch shot landed at 7 feet, 8 inches, and he needed that to make the cut for a piece of the record $20 million prize pool.
So he reasoned.
Malnati had no idea that Scott Piercy, in the group behind him, was pushing the cut line by himself.
Piercy rinsed his tee shot on 17 while in a tie for 22nd place at 2 under par. It doesn’t matter; plenty of others have done so as well. However, he made a key error from the drop zone, ripping his wedge shot off the green and into the lake. His fifth shot wasn’t any better, catching on the front edge and left him with a distance of 63 feet. To make quadruple-bogey 7, he needed to sink a 9-footer.
That late tragedy pushed the predicted cut line to 2 over par, giving new life to seven players who were already in the house — a group that included McIlroy and Scheffler, who had finished late Saturday and were undoubtedly watching from afar.
“I’m willing to bet Rory wasn’t scrolling on his phone right now,” Malnati remarked.
Of course he was, a reporter answered. It was crucial for his afternoon tee time.
“Eh, you could be right,” Malnati said. “He is ecstatic to be here. He thinks the same way I do: this is a big deal.”
Malnati, on the other hand, was not thinking of McIlroy, Scheffler, or anybody else when he looked over the read of his make-or-break 7-footer. “I’ve been that guy previously who was looking at the scores on his phone and thought to himself, ‘Oh wow, he’s got 6 12 feet for par.’ “I might be back in if he misses,” Malnati added. “I’m aware that I have some control over it.” I care about everyone out here, but I also want to win. I wasn’t thinking about the guys at 2 over hoping I missed it; I was just trying to sink that putt.”
He stated, “This is a major to me.” “My goal is to keep improving, and they all feel like majors to me.” This one stands out for a variety of reasons.
“You can plainly look at the purse,” he says, “and say this is a big deal, and it is.”
“This is where we call home.”
“This is without a doubt one of the best courses we’ve played this year.”
“This is the best field in golf.”
“I shouldn’t have known, but I did: I’ve never made the cut here.” I had a strong desire to do so, and it felt great.
“This was my dream when I was 15 or 16, and it still feels like a dream to be out here now that I’m 34.” I’m grateful, and I’m thankful that the Tour, despite the fact that it’s becoming more tough and difficult every year out here, is becoming more rewarding if you perform well. It’s a drive to succeed.”
Before his third-round tee time, Malnati shook hands with two reporters and hurried up the stairs to grab a quick lunch. He joked, “Need to grab some more of that excellent meal.”
Piercy stomped his way toward scoring a few minutes later, and the mood outside the clubhouse deteriorated. He had three-putted from the front edge on the 18th hole, closing a dismal sequence in which he had dropped from inside the top 25 to outside the cut line.
He untucked his shirt and stayed in scoring for less than a minute, dazed by his quick demise. On his approach to the locker room, he flipped over a patio chair without pausing. He was well aware that he had made an expensive error.
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