PORT ARTHUR —
While Luke Donald was trying to come from out of the pack for a victory, Graeme McDowell and Webb Simpson were battling for the top spot and third-round leader Charlie Hoffman was blowing his chance to win the RBC Heritage on Sunday, Southeast Texas favorite Chris Stroud, was slowly, surely and anonymously climbing the leaderboard.
By the end of one of the wind-blown days he can remember, Stroud was sitting in a tie for sixth place and reflecting on his best tournament performance in over a year. Thanks to a new Scotty Cameron putter that helped him saved numerous pars, the former PN-G and Lamar star posted rounds of 70-70-69-70, picked up a check for $194,300 and made a significant move up the money and Fed Ex points lists.
“To be honest, finally getting another top 10, even a backdoor top 10, was a bit of a relief,” he said Tuesday from New Orleans. “I’m finally seeing some progress. To be under par all four rounds on a tough course in difficult conditions is a confidence builder. I can’t say that I played great, but I scored. My short game was terrific. I made some clutch, par-saving putts.”
As was noted in the earlier, he did it almost like he was in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Despite playing with the high-profile Donald, striking some outstanding shots and holing several putts en route to a closing 70 that was only a stroke off the day’s low round, Stroud was basically invisible on CBS’ telecast. The only time you saw him was after Donald hit a shot.
“I know people at home get upset about the TV stuff, but that’s not an issue with me,” Stroud said. “Sure, I’d like the exposure, but I know what I have to do to get it. If I’m in the lead, or near the lead, they will show me. I understand why they lock in on guys like Luke and Graeme McDowell and Webb Simpson.”
Stroud would rather talk about his putting change and a softer shaft in his driver that’s helping him have better control off the tee. Those were the keys to making his first cut in four tries at Harbour Town and collecting what amounted to his fifth biggest paycheck in seven years on the PGA.
After primarily using a belly putter for the past two years, Chris opted for a regulation-length Scotty Cameron last week and got spectacular results. In swirling conditions that made hitting small greens extremely challenging, he needed only 24 putts on Saturday and 25 on Sunday.
By the time he rolled in an 8-foot par saver on his 72nd hole, which turned out to be worth over $70,000, he’d climbed from 75th to 56th in the PGA Tour’s all-important strokes gained putting stat. He also leaped from 39th to 17th in scrambling.
“I made the change back to a shorter putter on the second anniversary of going to a belly putter,” Stroud explained. “My original idea was to use the belly putter for a year, look at the stats, then make a choice. Results were good, so I stuck with it a second year. Returning to a Scotty Cameron was sort of like taking the training wheels off.
“What the belly putter taught me was that you can pretty much make everything inside 10 feet. It also helped me learn to make better strokes. I wanted to see if I could apply those lessons to a more conventional putter. Based on last week, the results were really encouraging. It’s like Whitey (Lamar golf coach Brian White) says, a good putter can putt with anything. And I think I’m a good putter.”
Up to No. 82 on the money list at $429,217, Stroud would seem to be positioned to make a move. Two of his next four events — this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans and the May 9-12 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass — have historically been good for him.
His biggest PGA payday of $237,500 followed a T10 in the 2010 Players. His second largest of $222,050 followed a T5 in New Orleans in 2007. In six starts in New Orleans, he’s gone T5, T64, Cut, T21, T26, T24. In three trips to The Players, he’s had a missed cut, a T10 and a T12.
“I love the course in New Orleans,” he said, of the TPC Louisiana. “It’s almost like being home. It sets up nice for me. I love the way the greens are built, plus they are Bermuda. This is my favorite stretch of the year and I feel like my overall game is the best it’s been in some time. But you still have to go out and execute shots and make putts.
“The more you play, the more you realize how crazy and demanding this game can be. So I’m not going to get carried away with expectations. I’ll just prepare like I normally do, stick with my game plan, try to make good decisions and be patient. I do think I’m in a good place with my game.”
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at email@example.com.
Stroud’s top five PGA Tour paydays
1. 5/09/10 Players Championship T10 $237,500
2. 4/22/07 Zurich Classic of New Orleans T5 $222,050
3. 7/03/11 AT&T National, D.C. T6 $215,450
4. 2/15/09 AT&T Pebble Beach T6 $197,487
5. 4/21/13 RBC Heritage Classic T6 $194,500