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Malnati with big break and great shot wins Valspar and earns trip to Masters

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

A putt he thought he left short dropped for birdie on the 12th hole. A shot into the 16th in mangled rough 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 into the wind to 6 feet on the par-3 17th for 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,” Malnati said. “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, made it easier on him by taking bogey on the final hole for a 68. Young now has seven runner-up finishes without a win.

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 putter, which he sent down to short range for par.

On the par-3 17th into wind, Malnati hit his most important shot of the day for 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 hit that on the green for a simple two-putt to finish at 12-under 272, his first victory since the Sanderson Farms Championship in 2015.

More than the $1,512,000 from winning, Malnati goes to the Masters for the first time and gets a two-year exemption. He also is assured of getting into the remaining four $20 million signature events without any help.

Malnati is one of six player-directors on the PGA Tour board, and he was singled out for criticism when he received a sponsor exemption — along with two other board members — to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

“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.”

It was gut-wrenching for Young, one of the top young talents and power players in golf who can’t seem to get across the line. He shot 31 on the back nine at St. Andrews in the 2022 British Open, only to finish one shot behind Cameron Smith, who shot 30. Young also was in the hunt until the 16th hole of the 2022 PGA Championship.“It was just a bad time for a pull,” Young said of his tee shot on the 18th.

Mackenzie Hughes of Canada (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 at Innisbrook.

Hughes had the lead on the back nine with a 45-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole. He was tied and in the middle of the 12th fairway when it began to fall apart. His approach went over the green and into the back slope of the bunker, leaving him no shot to a back pin. He fell two shots behind when Malnati made a 15-foot birdie.

On the par-3 13th, Hughes came up short and in the water and he was never seriously part of the mix the rest of the way.

Keith Mitchell started the day with a two-shot lead, and he was three behind at the turn. Mitchell 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. By then he was 8 over for his round. He shot 77,

Seamus Power, playing in the final group, shot 76.

Malnati is No. 184 in the world ranking, making him the fifth player to win full PGA Tour events this year. His only other win in the fall of 2015 did not come with an automatic invitation to the Masters. Fall events started getting invitations the next year.

“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.”

Source: AP