The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
After a confidence-shaking start to the 2013 season that saw him playing on the weekend only once in five tournaments, the arrow is pointing up for Chris Stroud heading into this week’s Shell Houston Open. He’s made four consecutive cuts, including a T13 the Honda Classic and a T18 in Puerto Rico, and is coming off rolling in a whopping 18 birdies enroute to a T34 in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Stroud, in fact, made more birdies than tournament winner Tiger Woods (17) at Bay Hill, though that stat loses a bit of its luster when Tiger’s three eagles are thrown into the mix. Still, 18 birdies indicates numerous really good shots and holed putts. The flip side, of course, is too many holes where over-par scores were recorded, including one double and one triple.
“I didn’t realize I’d made 18 birdies,” Stroud said. “That’s a lot of birdies. With that many birdies, I should have scored better and had a higher finish. But it’s kind of reflective of how weird the past month has been for me. I’ve been hitting some awesome shots, then I turn around and hit an awful shot and make a double bogey.
“There’s no question I’m playing better and that my confidence is back. But it’s such a crazy game. I’m scoring better and making cuts, yet every week I look back at the shots I threw away that kept me from contending. I’m still struggling with consistency off the tee and my lag putting needs to be better. Overall, I’m seeing the small improvements that you must see as a player to keep going in the right direction.”
History says Chris needs all the positives he can muster to avoid yet another downer at the SHO. Seven starts in Houston have resulted in him playing only one time on Sunday. He did survive the cut on the number last year with rounds of 69-73, but a 76 in round three saw him eliminated when another cut was made at the 54-hole mark.
“I have no reason to think I won’t play well this week,” Stroud said. “What’s happened in the past won’t have a bearing. While I haven’t scored well at Redstone, I do have some local knowledge about the course that most guys don’t have. I just need to do a better job of taking advantage of the birdie opportunities that are available.
“The key at Redstone is to move the ball right to left off the tee. While I’ve been working with Whitey (Lamar golf coach Brian White) to get back to a left-to-right ball flight, I’m not there yet. My swing is still a little flat and my go-to shot is still a draw. So I think I will feel comfortable. It’s time for me to play well there.”
Stroud, after getting back in from Orlando Sunday night, was on the tee with White early Monday morning in frigid temperatures. Why? He couldn’t pass up an opportunity to spend a little time with the guy who knows his swing better than anybody.
“I think Whitey found something that may help this week,” he said. “He asked me to hit a low draw into the wind and I hit what in my mind was a knockdown. It was really pure. I always seem to hit low shots better than regular shots. He pointed out to me that I was probably playing the ball too far up in my stance on most shots. I moved it back and was amazed at how much better I compressed the ball.”
“Chris is in a good place,” said White. “He’s doing a very good job of scoring and making cuts while working on his game and refining things. He’s not where we want him to be with his swing, but he’s still being competitive and that’s what golf is really all about.
“I really like the mental toughness Chris has shown, and how he’s been able to grind it out when necessary. He hit his first tee shot out of bounds Saturday, made a 7 and could have put up a high number. But he bounced right back with a couple of birdies. His time is coming. I really believe that.”
Thanks to four consecutive paydays, Stroud has climbed from money-list oblivion to No. 108 with $209,497 in earnings. He’s also up to No. 133 in Fed Ex Cup points. If he can keep pouring in the birdies at a Tigeresque pace this week, those numbers will get dramatically better.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at email@example.com