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BOB WEST ON GOLF — Lengthy RBC rain delay proves costly for Stroud

For a guy playing in competition for the first time in over three months, a guy who had missed seven consecutive cuts before COVID-19 shut down the PGA Tour, a guy dealing with back issues, a guy going up against one of the strongest non-major fields in golf, Chris Stroud didn’t figure to be much of a factor in the RBC Heritage.

Before he teed it up at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head last Thursday, the PNG ex, in all honesty, would probably have been thrilled to know he was going to post a 13-under, 271 and finish tied for 28th.

Instead of being pleased, however, Stroud wound up about as disappointed as he’s ever been following a golf tournament. After 63 holes of near flawless golf, after a three-under front nine on Sunday, he was minus 16, nipping at the heels of the leaders and in excellent position for a top 10, even a top 5.

Then, thanks in no small measure to a three-hour rain delay, too much of it slipped away. Four bogeys on the back nine, three of them after penalty shots, including one on a perfectly struck drive at 18, left the former Lamar All-America in a frustrated funk.

“It is a difficult pill to swallow,” he said. “Golf can really be a cruel game. I came back after the rain delay and my body just didn’t feel right. I swung the club nicely all week, was putting well, really playing good golf. I just did not do a good job of adapting after the delay.”

Here is how well Stroud was playing. He easily made the cut with rounds of 68-69, then charged into a share of the early lead with an eight-under-63 on Saturday. After making a bogey on the seventh hole of his opening nine on Thursday he would go 58 holes before making another.

In round three, he’d rolled in four consecutive birdies on the front, then sank three straight on the back. All of a sudden, he seemed totally in control of his game.

“Although my back has limited how much I can practice, I went there pretty optimistic,” Stroud said. “I’d played several rounds at The Woodlands with Jhonattan Vegas, Bronson Burgoon and some other tour guys and I was winning in some fun money games. The last week I tightened some things up with my teacher.

“Once I got back in the flow of tournament golf, my confidence started to rise. I felt like it was going to be a great week. I still believe I have enough game to win and I got myself in position to contend. It just sucks to play so solid all week, then have it get away like that. It’s souring. I hit so many good shots.”

One of those was a perfectly struck “baby driver” on the 72nd hole that went 308 yards down the left center of the fairway and trickled into a hazard. It led to his fourth bogey on the back. For whatever reason, those fickle golf gods were testing his resolve.

The good news for Stroud is this week’s tour stop is at River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut. That’s where in 2013 he made his first big statement as a pro, tying Ken Duke after 72 holes before losing in a playoff.

“I have great memories there,” Stroud said. “It’s a good place for me to be this week. I have to get over what happened at Harbour Town. I have to remember how well I played the first 63 holes, not how it got away on the back nine.”

Yes, and hope there are no lengthy rain delays to tighten up a balky, 38-year-old back.

Golf news should be emailed to rdwest@usa.net. Bob West’s column is sponsored by 5 Under Golf Center.