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Malnati ends long title drought

PETER Malnati kisses the trophy after closing with a four-under par 67 to rule the US PGA Tour Valspar Championship. | JULIO AGUILAR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MIAMI (AFP) — Peter Malnati snapped a nine-year victory drought, making a key birdie on the penultimate hole to win the US PGA Tour Valspar Championship.

The 36-year-old American fired a four-under par 67 in the final round to complete 72 holes on 12-under 272 for a two-stroke triumph over countryman Cameron Young at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course in Palm Harbor, Florida.

“You wonder if you’re ever going to do it again,” a tearful Malnati said, pausing at times and his voice cracking with emotion.

“It›s hard. In the nine years since my last win, it has gotten a lot harder too.”

“The level of talent out here, guys coming out when they are 20 years old and they are ready to play on this stage and they are so good. You just wonder.”

“And so to have this moment, it just feels so amazing.”

Malnati, ranked 184th, had only one title in 258 prior career PGA starts, that coming in the 2015 Sanderson Farms Championship.

More than 3,000 days later, Malnati celebrated with his family on the 18th green.

“I’m just so thankful,” he said.

“You can’t describe it.”

Malnati began the day two strokes behind 54-hole leader Keith Mitchell, who finished in a share of 17th after a closing 77, and was tied with Young on 11-under as they reached the last two holes.

Malnati dropped his tee shot at the par-3 17th six feet from the hole and sank the tension-packed putt to seize the lead.

At 18, Young’s tee shot went way left under trees and he made a three-putt bogey, missing a nine-footer for par to fall two adrift of Malnati, who closed with a par to clinch the emotional victory.

“I told myself I was going to do my best on every shot and that was what I did,” Malnati said.

“I was so nervous coming down the stretch.”

Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes and American Chandler Phillips shared third on 275 with Americans Xander Schauffele and Ryan Moore, China’s Carl Yuan and Canada’s Adam Hadwin on 276.

World No. 23 Young, 26, missed out on his first career PGA title but settled for his seventh runner-up finish, his first since last year’s WGC Match Play.

“It was just a bad time for a pull,” Young said of his final tee shot.

“Just kind of started it on the wrong side of the wind and it was blowing pretty good off the right.”

“I think I handled my own thoughts really well and, for me, that’s a big win regardless of the outcome.”

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