Malnati fires 63 for lead before 500 spectators

American Peter Malnati acknowledging spectators' applause after his birdie on the 18th green during the first round of the Bermuda Championship at Port Royal Golf Course on Thursday.
American Peter Malnati acknowledging spectators' applause after his birdie on the 18th green during the first round of the Bermuda Championship at Port Royal Golf Course on Thursday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MIAMI • Peter Malnati birdied the final hole to grab a one-shot lead after the opening round of the Bermuda Championship on Thursday in the first PGA Tour event to have fans since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Malnati made nine birdies, including five straight over a scorching stretch around the turn, and one bogey for an eight-under 63 at Port Royal Golf Course in Southampton. Fellow Americans Doug Ghim and Ryan Armour were one shot off the pace.

Malnati, ranked 166th, won his only PGA crown at the 2015 Sanderson Farms Championship, but is coming off two of his best tour finishes earlier this month, second at the Sanderson Farms and joint fifth at Las Vegas.

"With everything in the world right now, this island is doing a phenomenal job with their testing protocol and keeping everyone safe," said Malnati, whose wife and one-year-old son followed him during his round.

"I just didn't know if it was actually going to work for them to get out here. So coming off that disappointing bogey on 17, I hit a nice drive on 18 and before I even get my yardage or anything, I see my wife and boy standing out there."

The tournament is allowing a maximum of 500 fans at Port Royal for each day, making it the first PGA Tour event to have spectators since the Players Championship in March was cancelled after one round because of Covid-19.

Doc Redman, who holed out for eagle from 94 yards at the par-four 15th, was among a group of three players sitting two shots back of Malnati.

Defending champion Brendon Todd, looking to become the first player to retain a Tour title since Brooks Koepka at the 2019 PGA Championship, offset four bogeys with four birdies for an opening 71.

Separately, the LPGA Tour will stage the Tournament of Champions with spectators for its 2021 season opener from Jan 21-24 at Orlando, Florida, the women's circuit announced on Thursday.

The event, which mixes top players and celebrities, will be contested at Tranquilo Golf Course at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club and return through 2024 as part of a three-year contract extension announced Thursday with Diamond Resorts.

Mexico's Gaby Lopez is the defending champion, while former Major League Baseball pitcher John Smoltz will chase a third consecutive celebrity crown.

"The parties, the food, the atmosphere - this isn't just any tournament. This is one we definitely all hope to play in every year," said world No. 4 Danielle Kang of the United States.

A limited number of spectators will be allowed to attend following state, local and US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. They include medical screenings, daily temperature checks, face masks and social distancing.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2020, with the headline 'Malnati fires 63 for lead before 500 spectators'. Print Edition | Subscribe