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Stroud’s on verge of defining moment in his PGA career

Lots of Southeast Texas eyeballs figure to be glued to NBC this afternoon for a round of golf that could be a major turning point in Chris Stroud’s PGA career. With a six-under-par 66 in the Players Championship Saturday that, while not his lowest competitive round but his best considering the caliber of the event and the golf course, the former PN-G and Lamar great has put himself in position to end all worries about Q school for a while. A win at the Players pays roughly $1.75 million, a top 5 is worth close to $500,000, a top 10 collects about $250,000 and 20th is worth in the area of $150,000. No matter how Chris handles the most pressure-packed round of his life today, you can’t put a price tag on the confidence boost this week has already meant to him . . . Few in golf know Tiger Woods’ game better than Butch Harmon and Harmon thinks it could be next year before Tiger’s head is in the right place to play at a high level. “Anybody that plays golf can look out there and see that he’s not Tiger Woods,” Harmon said on the PGA Tour radio network. “Until he gets his head straight and get things in his mind settled, with some professional help I would add, it’s going to be awhile before we see the old Tiger Woods. If I was still on his team, I would advise him to not play much this year, maybe just the majors. He needs to try and get his head on straight.” . . . The inaugural Admiral Nimitz Golf Classic, honoring hometown World War II war hero Chester Nimitz,  is set for June 4 in Fredericksburg on one of Texas’ highest ranked golf courses — Boot Ranch. What makes it worth mentioning here is the format. Instead of the usual shotgun start, play will commence with a cannon shot from a Stewart tank’s 37mm main gun. Hazards along the course will include World War II vehicles — military jeeps and a troop transport — tents and machine gun positions. There will also be a low altitude, high RPM sweep over the course by four World War II aircraft — three AT-6 Texans and one TBM torpedo bomber. No word if there will be any land mines.

Lance Berkman, one of many Astros disappointments in the 2010 season’s first month, has offered a sure-fire way he can be part of the long-term solution to improvement. Berkman told the Houston Chronicle he’d be willing to waive his no-trade clause, if GM Ed Wade wants to unload him for prospects near the trade deadline. Wade’s foolish if he doesn’t take Berkman up on the offer, along with moving Roy Oswalt and Carlos Lee. If the Astros are going to finish last or next to last in the NL Central, which they are, the sensible thing is to acquire prospects and dump big salaries. Owner Drayton McLane’s  likely reluctance to part with long-time fan favorites like Oswalt and Berkman figures to be tempered by all those empty seats at Minute Maid Park . . . For a team that’s already authored two eight-game losing streaks, the Astros are overflowing with embarrassing statistics. Most embarrassing stat of all is the one that surfaced after Oswalt got beat 1-0 by the Arizona Diamondbacks Tuesday night. Oswalt, whose  record dropped to 2-4 despite a sparkling 2.48 ERA, got one hit in the defeat to lift his batting average to .222. What makes that noteworthy is that nobody in the middle of Houston’s batting order can match it. Entering Saturday night’s game with the Padres, Berkman was at .185, Lee at .204 and Pence at .212. Two other regulars — second baseman Kaz Matsui (.196) and shortstop Tommy Manzella (.203) — are also hitting less than Oswalt. That’s helped the Astros to a .232 team batting average which ranks 28th out of 30 teams in the major leagues.

Wonder how Bill Parcells, who was Lawrence Taylor’s chief enabler for years, feels about his former star player’s latest predicament. Parcells, of course, picked up a couple of Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants because Taylor’s defensive skills were so great he was willing to tolerate a cocaine-snorting thug playing linebacker. Taylor’s latest arrest for allegedly having sex with a 16-year-old prostitute brings to mind a 2004 interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” when he talked about patronizing up to six prostitutes a day . . . Beaumonter Jerry LeVias is the polar opposite of Taylor when it comes to character. Best known for the abuse he overcame at SMU while breaking the color barrier in Southwest Conference football in the late 1960s, the little guy from Hebert High School was  honored by the city of Houston last week for his work as community outreach director for Boys and Girls Harbor. Mayor Annise Parker declared Tuesday Jerry LeVias Day in the Bayou City. Every black schoolboy football player in Texas should know about LeVias, the trail he blazed and the way he was treated. White players, too . . . Lamar football coach Ray Woodard is taking his best shot this week at landing University of Texas transfer Ben Wells. Wells, the former Ozen defensive back who was a Port Arthur News Super Teamer, is taking an official visit at LU this weekend. There is some thought that Stephen F. Austin might have the inside track.

Add NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing’s four-game suspension for substance abuse, announced by the NFL Friday, to an ever-growing litany of misfortune that suggests the Houston Texans are a star-crossed franchise. Every time it seems there’s light at the end of the tunnel for the Texans, it turns out to be an onrushing train. In a make-the-playoffs or bust season for Texans coach Gary Kubiak, losing a star linebacker for the opening gauntlet of games against Indianapolis, Washington, Dallas and Oakland doesn’t bode well. Especially since they will be breaking in a rookie cornerback . . . It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention yet but there’s an off-field situation that could prove devastating to New Orleans’ chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions. Saints GM Mickey Loomis, head coach Sean Payton and assistant coach Joe Vitt are tied to a civil lawsuit and DEA investigation involving Vicodin stolen from the team’s medical cabinet. Allegations brought by a former FBI agent working security for the Saints look fairly ominous. All the ingredients seem to be in place for a terribly disruptive set of distractions . . . Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips is not the type to get carried away raving about a rookie, so his comments last week on first-round draft pick Dez Bryant being one of the most talented players he’s seen in 33 years around the NFL was eye-opening. So were the comments of Dallas receiver Miles Austin on Colin Cowherd’s ESPN radio show Friday. Said Austin:  “He’s got some serious skills. Ball skills, catching the ball, route running, just natural skills that some people take time to develop, he kind of already has those right now. Hopefully, we can put those things in play and get rolling.

Real life intruded on the celebration of former Lamar University pitcher Clay Hensley last week with the Florida Marlins. Hensley, who seems to be on the verge of finding himself with the Marlins, after not making it with the San Diego Padres, had struck out seven batters in three scoreless innings of relief Friday night, April 30. That meant he’d fanned 13 of the last 19 batters he faced. Sadly, he was greeted in the locker room with a phone call that his father had passed away in Jacksonville . . . The Chicago Cubs have finally won something, although their fans probably aren’t too excited about it. According to Team Marketing Report, the Cubs now have the highest average ticket price in baseball ($52.56), surpassing the Red Sox ($52.32) and the Yankees ($51.83). When it comes to the fan  cost index — the price for a family of four to attend a game, purchase two small beers, four small soft drinks and four hot dogs and buy two programs and two adult caps — the Cubbies price is an outrageous $329.74. By comparison, it’s a mere $212.16 in Houston, which ranks 11th. The average Astros ticket is $29.29, which is also 11th . . . Butler continues to cash in off its dramatic run to the Final Four and near miss against Duke in the NCAA championship game. ESPN has arranged for a nationally televised rematch of the title game on Saturday, Dec. 4 at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. Not only will the Butler program get a sizable financial windfall, but the TV exposure against Duke figures to be invaluable.

Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net