Zack Byrd of Murrells Inlet had to rally to make the 36-hole cut Thursday in The Investec Royal Swazi Open at Royal Swazi Spa Country Club in Swaziland.
As he stood on the 18th tee in the final round, Byrd had a lead in the Sunshine Tour event.
Some torrid shot-making by the 30-year-old Coastal Carolina alumnus allowed him to shoot up the leaderboard in the final two rounds before a bogey on the 18th hole and closing birdie by Peter Karmis gave the South African a one-point win.
Byrd tied for second with Lyle Rowe of South Africa and earned approximately $8,500 to move into sixth on the tour’s early-season money list with more than $10,400 earned in three events.
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The tournament was played using the Stableford scoring system, which awards five points for eagles, two for birdies, zero for pars, minus-one for bogeys and minus-3 for double bogeys or worse.
Karmis outscored Byrd 49-48. Byrd had the most points in the tournament over the final three days after recording just two points in the opening round.
The tournament had one of the best fields the Sunshine Tour will attract this year, with some European Tour players, including a winner this year, and some players ranked inside the top 200 in the world.
“To see my game hold up with those guys and play right alongside of them gives me some confidence that I’m on the right path,” Byrd said.
Down the stretch Saturday, Byrd eagled two of his final 17 holes, including one on a 40-foot putt on the par-5 17th hole, and Karmis bogeyed a couple holes to allow Byrd to take the lead, though he wasn’t aware of the bogeys. He pulled an 8-iron on the 194-yard par-3 18th hole and found a short-sided greenside bunker, blasted to 15 feet and missed the par putt.
“My thought on the 18th tee box was I needed to make a birdie, so I got a little aggressive, made a bad club selection and put it in a bad spot,” Byrd said. “Had I known I had the lead, a 9-iron to the middle of the green would have been the play. I thought the whole day I needed to get to 50 points or more to win.”
Karmis still had to birdie the 17th and 18th holes to surpass Byrd and Rowe, and made them.
Byrd birdied three of his final six holes in the second round just to make the cut by two points. He made seven birdies and an eagle to shoot a 9-under 63 and earn 19 points in the third round, and he made four birdies, two eagles and two bogeys to shoot 66 Saturday.
He was coming off a tie for 18th last week with six birdies in his final 10 holes in another event on the Sunshine Tour – he earned full status through the South Africa-based tour’s qualifying school earlier this year.
“I don’t even know what clicked. Finally a couple putts went in,” Byrd said. “I birdied three of the last six to make the cut and it carried over into yesterday and the 63. I drove it really well and had my best wedge game I’ve had in years. I wedged it incredibly well. I didn’t even putt that well I just hit it really close a lot.”
Byrd is returning home Sunday for eight days before going back for an event on the same Royal Swazi course. Byrd said he played very poorly in his Sunshine Tour opener in Zimbabwe.
“I’ve been toying with not continuing to play,” Byrd said. “If I was going to keep going I was going to need a sign. Then to finish 18th and second in two very strong fields, I think I’m going to go ahead and keep going. To see my game hold up against the top tier in the world it gives me confidence. I know I’m good enough and my game’s still there to compete.”