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      Byron Smith cruises to four-stroke win at Rex Hospital Open

    • Byron Smith was a birdie-making machine during the weekend carding 16 birdies and only 3 bogeys. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Byron Smith was a birdie-making machine during the weekend carding 16 birdies and only 3 bogeys. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

    RALEIGH, N.C. – Byron Smith cruised to a stress-free 5-under 66 Sunday to win the Rex Hospital Open by four strokes for his first career title. Smith shared the 54-hole lead at TPC Wakefield Plantation and distanced himself from the pack, getting to his 16-under 268 total. He finished four better than Scott Gardiner (69) and Harold Varner III (70).

    Brad Fristch (66), Tony Finau (67) and Roberto Diaz (70) shared fourth place, five back of the winner. Duke grad Ryan Blaum (69) was solo seventh.

    “This means everything. It’s a long time coming,” said the 33-year old Smith, who was on the golf team for two years but never played in a tournament during days as a philosophy major at Pepperdine. “They say golf is a game of mostly failures and I’ve had plenty of that. This is what makes it all worth it. It’s amazing. It’s the biggest moment in my golf career up to this point by far.”

    Smith moved from No. 66 to No. 10 on the money list.

    The Palm Desert, California, resident hit the ball solidly the first two days but couldn’t get the putter working and was seven shots off the pace heading into the weekend.

    “I just wasn’t making anything,” he said. “I hit it amazing for four rounds and finally got the putter working on the weekend. I stayed patient and didn’t try to force anything. I just kept hitting quality iron shots and giving myself good looks. Thankfully a couple started to drop.”

    Smith went from just barely making the cut to a share of the lead with a course-blistering 8-under 63 on Saturday.

    An early bogey at No. 2 was the only mistake of the final day for the California native, who rebounded with three birdies on his next four holes to establish himself at the top.

    “I kept it easy on myself and just tried to keep it in front of me,” said Smith. “I didn’t really get any big breaks but I avoided the unlucky breaks and avoided the serious predicaments.”

    Smith didn’t have full command of his driver but managed to regroup time after time and used his iron play to lead the field in greens in regulation.

    When he made the turn at 13-under his lead was down to one shot over Varner, the East Carolina grad who had the support of the locals. Smith put his foot on the accelerator with four birdies in five holes starting at No. 11 and when the last one dropped to push his score to 17-under, his lead was four with three holes to go.

    Gardiner enjoyed a similar birdie stretch on the back but the Australian-turned-Arkansan bogeyed the final hole to drop back to 12-under, leaving Smith to shoot for the middle of the greens on the final three holes.

    “I took glances at the board but I didn’t want to mess with how it was flowing out there,” said Smith. “After I hit the tee shot on 18 I asked my caddie how many shots we had to work with. He told me five and that’s when I thought let’s just get it over the creek and wiggle it in.”

    Byron Smith winner's interview after the 2014 Rex Hospital Open
    • Interviews

      Byron Smith winner's interview after the 2014 Rex Hospital Open

    Byron Smith winner's interview after the 2014 Rex Hospital Open
    • Interviews

      Byron Smith winner's interview after the 2014 Rex Hospital Open

    FOURTH-ROUND NOTES:

    • BYRON SMITH

    • Earns his first career win on the Web.com Tour in his 45th career start.

    • Collects a first-place check for $112,500 and increases his season total to $139,061 – which is more than he earned in 24 total starts in 2013 ($127,129).

    • Jumps from No. 66 to No. 10 on the money list.

    • Becomes the eighth first-time winner on Tour this year in 10 events.

    • Wins at the age of 33 years, 1 month, 24 days.

    • Becomes the first player in his 30s to win on Tour this year.

    • Is the fourth 54-hole leader/co-leader to win on Tour this year.

    • Is the ninth 54-hole leader/co-leader to win the Rex Hospital Open in the tournament’s 21 years.

    • Is the 11th player in 21 years to earn his first career win at the Rex Hospital Open and the third in a row – James Hahn 2012, Chesson Hadley 2013.

    • His four-stroke win is the second-largest in tournament history – John Riegger, 5 strokes, 2010.

    • His 8-under 63 Saturday was one off the course record 62 set by Rob Bradley in the final round in 2003.

    • His 63 Saturday was his career-low round on the Web.com Tour. His previous low score was a 64 (8-under) in the second round of the 2013 WNB Golf Classic at Midland CC in Texas.

    • Had made the cut in six of nine previous starts this year and had three top-25 finishes. His previous best week this season came at the Mexico Championship where he finished T19.

    • Is in his second full season on the Web.com Tour and his previous career-best finish was a solo second place at the 2013 WNB Golf Classic.

    • Statistics for the week

      Score Fairways GIR Putts
    R1 70 6 of 14 16 of 18 34
    R2 69 10 of 14 15 of 18 31
    R3 63 10 of 14 16 of 18 25
    R4 66 8 of 14 14 of 18 26
    Total   34 of 56 61 of 72  116
    Rank   T51 1st T18

    • Scott Gardiner (T2) is a member of the PGA TOUR this year. He has made five cuts in 14 starts with his best week a T13 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

    • Harold Varner III collected $55,000 for his T2 finish and jumped from No. 39 to No. 16 on the money list.

    • Brad Fritsch finished T4 in his first start on the Web.com Tour this year. Fritsch is also a member of the PGA TOUR this year and has made five cuts in 11 starts. He entered the week No. 172 on the FedExCup points list.

    • Tony Finau earned his first career top-10 finish with his T4 this week. Finau made a run up the leaderboard Sunday and an eagle at the par-5, 15th put him within two of the lead at the time but he stumbled with a double bogey on the next hole and wound up at 11-under, five off the pace. Finau has now finished T31, T19, T18 and T4 in his last four starts and is up to No. 27 on the money list.

    • Scoring average for the week:

      Front (36) Back (35) Total (72)
    R1 35.481 35.295 70.776
    R2 36.052 35.162 71.214
    R3 35.974 35.487 71.461
    R4 35.947 34.658 70.605
    TOT 35.829 35.177 71.006

    NEXT WEEK: The Web.com Tour will head take next week off before returning for the inaugural Cleveland Open June 2-8. The first-year event will be held at the A.W. Tillinghast-designed Lakewood Country Club in Westlake, OH.

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