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Peter Malnati turned the page on the calendar, but he picked up where he left off at his 2021 debut at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
The 33-year-old Knoxville, Tennessee native recorded two top-5 finishes, including a runner-up at the Sanderson Farms Championship in his first seven starts of the 2020-21 season. At one point, Malnati had a string of three straight tournaments where he shot at least one round of 63 or better. He kept up that torrid pace on Thursday at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. Malnati carded nine birdies en route to tying his career low with an 8-under 62 to grab the early lead.
“I soaked up the time at home,” he said, “that was really nice. I was playing great obviously last fall and kind of just tried to keep the momentum going over the little break and do just enough work to stay sharp and to come out and play well here today.”
When he fired a final-round 63 in Mississippi, Malnati said he’d be hard pressed to find a better round than that one, but he might have to reconsider after his sizzling start in the Aloha State. Malnati got the birdie fest going with a 35-foot birdie at No. 11, his second hole of the day. His short irons did most of the rest as Malnati’s longest of the remaining eight birdies was from 14 feet. It didn’t hurt that he chipped in for birdie at No. 3 from 30 feet off the green, which contributed to Malnati tying a career-low with just 21 putts.
Malnati has worked hard on his long game to improve his consistency, which has held the former Missouri Tiger back since notching his lone Tour victory at the 2015 Sanderson Farms Championship.
“My swing is not Adam Scott-esque,” he conceded. “It has a little bit of, I’ll say – idiosyncrasy is a good word. But when I give myself the time to sync everything up, pretty brilliant.”
He used the word “effortless” to describe Thursday’s brilliance. The only time Malnati was out of position in the opening round was when he hit his tee shot too well at the fifth hole.
“It’s straight downwind, so it’s not like I hit it that far, but 360 to go through the fairway into the creek and I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s a driver,’ ” Malnati recounted. “My caddie was like, ‘You want to think about it?’ I was like, ‘No, it’s driver.’ I hit it in the creek. It’s crazy. The course, it’s so much fun when it’s firm because that’s how this course was meant to play.”
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 14, 2021
Hot on Malnati’s heels after shooting 64s are Vaughn Taylor and Jim Herman, who missed the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week after testing positive with COVID-19.
“Didn’t know what to expect coming out this week. I had plenty of symptoms,” said Herman, who tested positive on December 28. “It was pretty miserable for about four days. My wife had it and luckily enough the rest of the house didn’t get it. But it wasn’t very pleasant.”
Added Herman: “It felt like a severe flu. Had some lung inflammation that was pressing on my back and caused discomfort for any position you would try to sit and relax.”
Herman said he didn’t touch a club for 11 or 12 days, but it didn’t seem to hinder his game as he recorded an eagle at the par-5 ninth hole in a bogey-free first round. Herman, who received last-place money from last week’s no-cut event, was confident he could’ve done better, but he was looking at the bigger picture.
“To miss a golf tournament, it’s not the end of the world,” he said.
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