Champion rewind: Byron Smith cruised to a stress-free 5-under 66 Sunday to win the Rex Hospital Open

 

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In a stunning twist this week on the Web.com Tour, a player in his 30s won.

No word on whether Byron Smith needed a nap before his post-victory press conference.

OK, so we jest a little. Indeed, Smith isn’t the oldest player to win this year or even the second-oldest. Alex Cejka (at the season opener in Colombia) and Kris Blanks (Chitimacha Louisiana) both have won this year as 40-somethings.

But in a season where young guns like Carlos Ortiz (two wins, one away from an instant PGA TOUR card) and Max Homa (one year removed from an NCAA title) have won, among others in their 20s, there haven’t been many stories about late bloomers.

Enter Smith.

If you hadn’t heard of him before this weekend at the Rex Hospital Open, you’re not alone. The 33-year-old wasn’t a decorated standout college player and though he won four times on PGA TOUR Canada, he didn’t get a full-time shot on the Web.com Tour until last year and this year his best finish was a T19.

But he knew his game was there, he just didn’t have a solid four-round week yet to show for it. Then came rounds of 70-69-63-66 at TPC Wakefield Plantation.

“I felt like it wasn’t far off and then it just all came together for me this week,” Smith said on Sunday night. “I was ready.

“I felt ready to be on this Tour like five, six years ago. I knew my path was going to be a little slower because of my college, amateur career. I wasn’t a good college player or anything like that. I stayed patient and figured it would happen eventually.”

The difference between Smith and the young-gun winners this year is that his patience took years, not months.

“There are a lot of young faces this year – which is funny ’cause I still feel young, golf-wise, but I’m getting old,” Smith said. “But I don’t focus on that, it doesn’t mean much to me.

“Even if I’m a little older as a rookie on the PGA TOUR, that’s fine with me. As long as I get there and stay there, that’s always been my motto. I don’t care if I’m 35 when I get there, as long as I’m ready to stay there and put in a good eight, 10 years on the big TOUR and be competitive. I’ll be happy with that.”

Byron Smith celebrates first win at Rex Hospital Open

BRUSH WITH GREATNESS: Smith finished T50 last week at the BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation but got a thrill in the final round, playing in the same group with Wayne Gretzky.

“The Great One” won the Pro-Am while playing with fellow Canadian Adam Hadwin and amazed Smith by treating him like an old friend.

“He had that ability, it was really impressive,” Smith said. “He acknowledged everything you said, there was no big league in him.”

After the round, Gretzky was bombarded by well-wishers and autograph hounds, but continued to dazzle Smith by putting his cell number on a scorecard and vowing to set up a round at Sherwood Country Club in California. Gretzky plays out of Sherwood and Smith lives about two hours away.

With this win, Byron Smith moves to 10th on the money list.Smith won $112,500 at the Rex Hospital Open to bring his season total to $139,061 in 10 starts

MIDPOINT: The Rex Hospital Open marked the 10th event out of 21 in the Web.com Tour regular season. After 11 more events, the top 25 on the money list will receive PGA TOUR privileges for the 2014-15 season.

So let the increased money-watching begin.

Carlos Ortiz has a commanding hold on No. 1 with $365,469, some $100,000 more than second-place Andrew Putnam – though both of those men are TOUR bound for sure.

The intrigue is farther down the list. Less than $14,000 separates No. 20 Richard Johnson from No. 30 Oscar Fraustro, and precisely $14,000 separates Fraustro from No. 40 Hunter Haas.

There’s plenty of room for volatility over the next 11 events, and the dollar-crunching has just begun.

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