Sea Island’s Byrd wins Tour Championship

Five-time PGA TOUR winner Jonathan Byrd is heading back to the TOUR after winning the Tour Championship for his first Tour victory in over 16 years. Byrd entered the final round, which was postponed to Monday after severe rain on Sunday, with a two-shot cushion but rolled in a birdie at the last for to a 4-under 67 and a four-shot victory over Shawn Stefani and Sam Saunders. After his final birdie dropped on the 72ndhole, his oldest son, Jackson, raced out onto the green and bear hugged his dad with the rest of his family not far behind him.

“I think every win’s special, they all stand alone, but this one is just ‑‑ this one’s very gratifying,” Byrd said. “There was I think a lot more hard work went into getting this win and I got tired of telling my kids and my kids kept praying, ‘I want to pray for daddy to get a win.’  It’s been a while.  My youngest, the five‑year‑old, has never got to see me win a tournament and she got to be here today. So it’s just very gratifying, very satisfying to just kind of keep laboring, keep laboring and it finally come to pass.”

At times in recent years the labor didn’t seem to match the reward. He even considered not coming Atlantic Beach Country Club despite being just an hour and half down the road from his home in Sea Island, Georgia because he’d missed the cut in his last two starts and wasn’t feeling like his game was where it needed to be.

But a quick pep talk from his wife on Monday sent him down I-95 and back to the PGA TOUR.

“It’s so satisfying,” Byrd said. “Like the last three years have just felt really long. They’ve been good for me, I wouldn’t change it a bit. I’ve built some great friendships out here and it’s been good for my family. A little bit of trial and tribulation. Just golf hasn’t come real easy the last three years and I’ve struggled with my confidence.”

Since losing his fully-exempt status on TOUR in 2015 with a 158th-place finish in the FedExCup standings, Byrd has bounced back and forth the last couple years between the TOUR, where he’s played with conditional status under the past champions category, and the Tour. The road hasn’t always been easy after failing to finish inside the Regular Season or Finals money list each of the last three years.

“I mean, to come all the way to this week and just not feel like I had it and just kind of muster something up this week,” Byrd said. “I did play a course that I felt suited my game beautifully and the conditions suited my game, so that was fortunate. But just kind of you got it rolling. You never know when it’s going to be your week and this week was my week. I played great, I got great breaks to go along with it, I made putts and it just kind of came easy this week.”

Part of why he was able to muster it up was the pep talk from his wife, which helped motivate him to “pick my lip up and fight it out.” But it was also the local knowledge of his caddie, who lives in Atlantic Beach, and a return to his beloved Bermuda greens that augmented his attitude adjustment. For the week, Byrd led the field in scrambling and was third in putting average on a course that suited his eye from the start.

“I think my wedge game and putting was probably the best this week,” Byrd said. “I hit a lot of good iron shots so that kind of went with it, but my wedges were just right on. I hit them the right distance, I almost holed out a few of them this week, I converted a lot of birdies with wedges. I think the thing that helped me was I don’t spin my wedges quite as much as some other guys or I can control my spin and take some spin off and flight them down and I think that really helped me on some of these wedge shots because the grain in the greens and the greens got soft this weekend and that helped me make a lot of birdies.”

Stefani posted the round of the day with a 6-under 65 in breezy conditions to jump into a share of second and move up 40 spots on the Finals money list (excluding the 25) to secure his PGA TOUR card. With Byrd cruising to victory for much of the day, Stefani was focused on returning to the TOUR, where he’s made played full-time since 2013.

“Man, it was just an emotional day,” Stefani said. “It was good, I played solid. I’ve been working really hard on my game and finally got some stuff out of there, mainly just an attitude adjustment but just super excited to see some good results come and going into the fall.”

Saunders, who opened the week with a 12-under 59, was unable to ride the wave of the opening sub-60 score to the winner’s circle, but he does leave with a prize of his own in the form of his TOUR card after jumping up to sixth on the Finals money list (excluding the 25) with a runner-up finish. As he leaves his home course, Atlantic Beach CC, it’s the 18th hole that he’ll blame for falling just short. For the week, he played the reachable par-5 in 2-over-par.

“My goal was to win this tournament, too,” Saunders said. “I was looking beyond getting the TOUR card back, I was fine with ‑‑ worst case scenario, if I had to play out of the 126 or 150 category this year, I would have been fine with that. I was trying to win these golf tournaments in the Web Finals. Disappointed not to win but I played really well this week and the 18th hole is the only reason I didn’t win the tournament.  I played it 2 over for the week and I didn’t hit shots bad enough that I felt like I should have been anything than about 4 under there so there’s six shots right there.”

Five players – Byrd (1), Stefani (T2), Matt Jones (T5), Cameron Tringale (T5), and Tom Hoge (T12) – all entered the week outside of the 25 on the Finals money list but jumped into the top 25 with strong finishes to secure their TOUR cards.

About the Author

Hello and Welcome to The Georgia Golfer I'm Stan Awtrey, the writer and administrator for this site. I love to watch and play, although my 19 handicap index would indicate that I'm better at watching. I've played more than 200 different courses over the years, including Augusta National (twice).