, Port Arthur, Texas


April 4, 2014

Putter stalls Stroud, Shawn Stefani soars

HUMBLE — HUMBLE — Once he signed his scorecard and accommodated several autograph requests, Chris Stroud headed straight for the Golf Club of Houston putting green. Those who watched him struggle to an even par 72 Friday in the second round of the Shell Houston Open knew exactly why.

    Stroud, who has played well enough tee to green to challenge 36-hole leader Sergio Garcia, is eight strokes back at 140 because he can’t make a putt. He took a season high 34 strokes with the flat stick in round two, after needing 29 Thursday enroute to an opening 68.

    “My putting is definitely not where I want it to be and hasn’t been all year,” Stroud said. “It’s been a little streaky and was really off today. I’ve been back and forth with the belly putter and the short putter and it’s mostly because I’m having trouble lining up when I get over the ball.”

    Stroud, after hitting 16 of 18 greens, sank only two birdies, with his longest make being 11 feet, 4 inches. After going with the belly putter the first two days, he’s switching to a shorter model for a Saturday round that will see him tee off at 8:20 a.m. on No. 1.

    All tee times have been set for between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. because of expected rain Saturday afternoon.

    While Stroud left the course frustrated late Friday, his former Lamar University teammate, Shawn Stefani has become one of the tournament’s best stories. Stefani added a 69 to an opening 67 and is tied for third, four strokes behind Garcia and three back of Matt Kuchar.

    The Barbers Hill ex has become a compelling story because he’s fighting to keep from losing his playing card. Stefani, after undergoing surgery for a pinched nerve in his neck late last season, was given two medical exemptions into tournaments of his choosing. He had to win $84,084 or accumulate 36 Fed Ex Cup points to keep from being relegated to the Tour.

    Stefani missed the cut at Torrey Pines after using the first exemption. This is his last chance and he’s done all he can, including rolling in a 60-foot bomb on his 35th hole, to make the most of the last-gasp opportunity. The toast of Baytown, starting his day on the back nine, come out smoking. He dropped  three birdies on the first four holes, turned in 32, then stumbled a bit with three bogeys on his incoming nine.

    “I finished well,” said Stefani. “On the 60-footer, I was just trying to get it close and it went in. It was nice to end the day that well. I stayed patient out there. It’s really nice because as a kid you dream about getting on the PGA Tour and playing in your home town event and playing well.

    “Obviously, there’s a lot at stake for me. I’m just trying to do the best I can, and it’s all going to work out no matter what.”

    Stroud was both excited and pleased for his former teammate.

    “Shawn’s in a tough spot, with being hurt last year and having to fight for his card like this. His scores the last two days indicate he’s playing well. He’s  very talented. I honestly could seeing him winning this tournament. I remember he won his first tournament at Lamar. I’ll be rooting for him.”

    Stroud certainly isn’t giving up on his own chances, although he has a lot of ground to make up.

    “Like I said, I’ve been streaky with the putter all year. Getting this alignment thing worked out is sort of the last piece to the puzzle. I haven’t putted really bad, I just haven’t putted great. Today was the worst. Something like that is a little discouraging and a little tough to handle.

    “I’m hitting the ball so well and giving myself chances. What’s going on is going of hard to explain. I may think I’m aiming a cup left and I’m two cups left. I’m going back to the short putter tomorrow and hopefully the ball will go in the hole.”

    It didn’t take long for Stroud’s putting woes to surface on Friday. After two-putt pars from the 20-foot range to open the round, he missed a 7 foot birdie on the third hole. He two-putted for a birdie from the fringe on the par 5, 4th, then wouldn’t get another birdie until making an 11-footer at the par 5, 15th.

    His bogeys came after a 3-putt on the par 4, 11th and following a missed 4-footer on the par 4, 17th. With a chance to end the day on an upbeat note, he didn’t come close on an 18-foot birdie attempt on the 18th hole.










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