West golf notepad: Stroud delivers another strong finish

Published 6:01 pm Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Another sizzling Sunday propelled Chris Stroud to his third top 10 finish of the 2013-14 PGA Tour season and allowed him to continue inching up in World Golf Rankings, the money list and Fed Ex Cup points. A closing 65 in the Puerto Rico Open got Lamar ex a T9 and a check of $94,500.

    Normally, a T9 would be worth considerably more. But, with all the game’s top players participating in the WGC Cadillac Championships at Doral, Puerto Rico wasn’t valued  as a top tier event. Stroud, in fact, was the highest ranking player participating in the tournament, based on Fed Ex Cup points.

    As is becoming more  and more obvious, however, you can’t judge a book or a golf tournament by the names in the field. That’s because the amount of really, really good young talent flooding the PGA Tour is almost scary. Guys like Patrick Reed, Russell Henley and Jordan Spieth seem to be coming out of the woodwork. Who’d heard of Chesson Hadley until he won in Puerto Rico?

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    It’s sort of a good news, bad news scenario for Stroud. At age 32, he’s a better player than he’s ever been. With six top 25s in nine starts, he’s already won more money this year ($1,025,420) than in all but two of his seven previous seasons. His high water mark was $1,602,122 last year. He’ll likely go well beyond that in 2014.

    The flip side, however, is that what Chris wants most — to score his first PGA Tour victory, to play in the Masters, to climb high enough in the world rankings for access to top tier WGC events — is being made more difficult by all the young guns. As was proven again by Reed at Doral and Hadley in Puerto Rico, not only are these  kids good, but they don’t wilt under pressure.

    Stroud, of course,  came oh-so-close to winning last summer, only to lose in a playoff to a seemingly- destined Ken Duke. He was right there in a couple of fall events before finishing third. In his last two tournaments, one round over-par blocked his chance to win.

    We’d all like to think that first victory is just around the corner, and it may be. There is no longer any question Chris has the overall game to win. And, if he can just get that first one, you have to believe a second and third might be easier to come by. Bottom line, however, there are no guarantees, no sure things in this game.

    Phil Mickelson, for all his accomplishments, still hasn’t won a U.S. Open. Sergio Garcia, who was supposed to become the next big thing over a decade ago, is ninth on the all-time money list but has never won a major. Tom Watson, one of the game’s all-time greats, was never able to win the PGA Championship. Hard to fathom examples go on and on.

    Golf has always been a fickle, crazy sport in which fate can and often does influence  the outcome. One putt lips out, another seemingly catches less of the cup and falls. A shot hit too hard slams into the pin and nestles into the cup. It’s perhaps a two-stroke swing. The ball takes an unpredictable bounce for better or worse. An opponent pulls off an otherworldly shot at crunch time.

    Duke got into the playoff with Stroud last summer because a tee shot headed toward big trouble struck a tree and kicked into the middle of the fairway. A sure bogey,  maybe a double, turned into a birdie. Tiger Woods won the 2000 PGA Championship when a pulled drive sure to go  OB hit a spectator and stayed in play. Bob May, a no-name foot solider, had what would have been his only victory snatched away.

    Mike Donald, another anonymous face in the crowd who managed one top 25 finish in his career, had the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah in his grasp. Then along comes Hale Irwin to knock in a 45-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole and eventually beat Donald in a playoff that stretched 19 holes.

    Golf, indeed, can be cruel and unforgiving.

    All of the above is why the most appropriate title for a book ever written about the PGA Tour was Dan Jenkins’ “Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate.” It was written in 1970 but it’s timeless.

    As for Stroud, all he can do is keep plugging away, keep putting himself in positions where he has a  chance to win and, most of all, keep working to improve himself. Meanwhile, those of us who can’t wait to see him hoist a championship trophy just need to enjoy the ride in what is shaping up as his career season.

    He’s No. 22 on both the money list and in Fed Ex points. His World Golf Ranking is up to 78. He’s 12th on the tour with three top 10 finishes. His season scoring average of 69.74 ranks 10th. In his go-to-stat the last couple of years — scrambling — he’s No. 6.

    There’s every reason to believe the best is yet to come. Yet the onrushing traffic from the kiddie corps suggests the sense of urgency should be higher than it’s ever been. At this point in pro golf’s evolution, there’s an awfully fine line between advancing and falling back into the pack.

    CHIP SHOTS: In yet another week of lousy weather curtailing golf events, PN-G’s Braden Bailey provided  the highlight. Bailey led PN-G to an 18-stroke victory at Bayou Din in the Southeast Texas High School Championship, co-hosted by West Brook and Kelly, with a 27-hole total of 99. To post his eight-under par score, Bailey shot even par 36 on the Bayou Front, smoked the back with a 6-under 30, then fired a 3-under 33 on the Links Nine. Bailey’s PN-G teammate Brandon Soileau was second 107 (34-35-38). Other PN-G scores included Tyler Rawson at 115 (39-38-38), Bradley Stone at 118 (38-41-39) and Cameron Keith at 125 (40-39-46). PN-G’s winning team total of 437 was based on the best four scores over each nine. Kelly was second at 455. Next up for the Indians is the District 20-4A championship at Chambers County Golf Club March 24-25 . . . The Senior 50 Plus Game at Babe Zaharias was played in a two-ball format. On the front  nine, there was a tie at minus 4 between the team of Randy Monk, Rick Pritchett, Ron Theriot and Paul Duplantis and the foursome of Gary Whitfill, Bill Draughon, Harrel Guidry and G. Anderson. The back was won in minus 6 by the team of Butch Cross, Butch Pittman, Dillard Darbonne and Billy Thillet . . . The Super Saturday Game at The Babe was also played in a 2-ball format. On  the front, the foursome of Joe Gongora, Robert Bonin,  Dan Flood and Carl Certa tied with the team of Bill Hammond, Larry Johnson, Ed Holley and Charles Leard at minus four. The back was won at minus 1 by the team of Rick Brunner, Wes McDonald, Ryan Thompson and Robert Lynch . . . Bill Taylor and Norm Shannon tied for first in the Monday Seniors at Belle Oaks with plus 2. Joe Vanderweg and Jim Brown tied for third at 0. Taylor won closest to the pin on No. 15 . . . Lamar ex Dawie van der Walt, who got into the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral by virtue of winning on the European Tour last year, didn’t play well but walked off with a nice check. Van der Walt, who finished next to last with a 310 total, made $46,000 . . . Entries are being accepted for the Nederland Heritage Festival Two-Man Scramble March 29 at Babe Zaharias. Entry cost is $50, which includes all fees. Call 722-8286 for more information.

    Golf News should be e-mailed to rdwest@ usa.net or faxed to 724-6854.