It took two immense golf shots from one of the best ball-strikers of his generation for Sergio Garcia to down Peter Malnati by one at the Sanderson Farms Championship on Sunday. Garcia’s 67 took the day after he played his final five holes in 3 under par and earned his first win in just over a year.
The entire afternoon was an unexpected thrill ride on a lazy fall afternoon. Malnati shot a wild 63 early in the day — gaining over 5 strokes putting on the field — to post at 18 under, and that left the rest of the leaders out there to chase him down. He openly wondered after his round whether 18 under would hold up, but it became clear as the day wore on that it would take a pretty special tee-to-green performance to best it.
He may have gotten all the attention this week for putting with his eyes closed (which he said he’s been doing for several years), but it was an elite ball-striking performance that bested Malnati. It almost always is with Garcia, who led the field in strokes gained from tee to green.
Two shots stood out. The first was a bomb on the par-5 15th from 259 yards to 3 feet (a very normal shot) that showed the very best of Garcia’s world-class trajectory and shot-making. Following that eagle putt and three straight pars, he then put the finishing touches on his week at the Country Club of Jackson.
Malnati’s intuition that 18 under would not be enough turned out to be correct, and you could see that he saw it coming. As he warmed up on the range to prepare for a potential playoff, Garcia landed an 8-iron on the 72nd hole from 171 yards to 3 feet, which he easily sank for birdie. Malnati cackled.
And while Malnati, who only has one win in his career, was easy to root for as he watched with his family near the clubhouse as the festivities unfolded, golf is almost always inconsiderate and ruthless. Garcia’s tee-to-green game and those two daggers were a physical manifestation of that cold reality. Talent, Garcia-level talent, almost always wins the day, even if it’s not always as beautiful as it was on Sunday.
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Here are the rest of our grades for the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Peter Malnati (2nd): After shooting 63 in the final round at a course where he’s won before, Malnati said the following about two hours before this year’s edition was set to end.
“This is my dream job, and I get to do it every day,” Malnati said. “It beats me up, and it’s so hard. The competition out here is so strong, and you fail so much. To have a day like today — I have no idea the outcome out there — but what I did out there today just felt awesome. I feel like I won the tournament, I probably won’t, but I feel like I did and it’s amazing.”
There’s a hidden truth that can be found in this quote for most professional golfers. We look at everything as binary — Did you win or did you lose? — but when up to 155 players “lose” every week, so many are simply chasing top 10s, world ranking points and giving themselves a chance on Sunday afternoon when the chips are down. Malnati has just three top 10s globally in the last years so hell yeah, it probably did feel like he won on Sunday. Grade: A+
Kristoffer Ventura (T6): Am I only including him because he went to Oklahoma State? Yes, I am. However, this was his seventh top-25 finish on either the Korn Ferry Tour or PGA Tour since golf restarted in early June. He’s bumped his play up to about an average PGA Tour player overall and has popped up on all kinds of leaderboards. I watched him three-putt from about 5 feet for birdie on Sunday, or this one would have been quite a bit better. He’ll likely always be the third-best player on that 2018 OSU team that featured Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland, but that’s a hell of a trio to be part of. Grade: A-
Scottie Scheffler (T37): The reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year simply did not hit the golf ball very well this week. He lost strokes to a mediocre field with his iron play, even though he’s been hitting it at a top-25 level of late. Given his recent break, there’s nothing to get worked up about but keep an eye on him over the rest of the year. That stretch will tell us a lot about whether he’s been on a heater or whether he’s a top 10 player in the world. Grade: C