By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Chris Stroud said he was struggling all weekend, but you'd never know it by the way he played on Sunday in THE PLAYERS Championship.
Stroud went out in the first group off No. 1 and birdied his first four holes, then added another at No. 9 to turn in 31. He was 10 under for the tournament when he birdied the 13th hole before he dropped back into the pack with bogeys on his last two holes.
All in all, though, Stroud couldn't be too disappointed with his 68. He was tied for 12th when he finished -- as the leaders made the turn -- and very well could find himself moving up the leaderboard as the pressure mounts Sunday afternoon.
"I hung in there today," Stroud said. "To be honest, I was struggling this weekend. I really hit the ball great Thursday, Friday. And I was definitely fighting my swing a little bit.
"But I hung in there, I kept believing in myself, and I wish I would have finished a little better today. It was a great round. I hung in there and made some great par saves. I just wish I would have finished stronger than I did on 17 and 18, but overall it was a great week."
Stroud said he didn't look at the leaderboards until late on the back nine. At that point, he was trailing by three and knew he had an outside shot if he could post double digits under par.
"I think if I could have gone birdie, birdie par, par and finished at 11, that might have been a good number, because those last few holes are really hard," Stroud said. "I'm really happy for this week that I had a shot and had a chance to maybe even win this thing.
"But I love this course. I've played well here. Played well here last year, and I hope to keep coming back."
Stroud, who tied for 10th in his PLAYERS debut last year, said that with its small greens and tree-lined fairways the Stadium Course reminds him of the ones he grew up on in Houston. He expects the wind to be particularly challenging over the last three holes today -- particularly at No. 17.
"It's just back and forth, down left to right and into to you left to right," Stroud said. "Every 15 seconds it's switching. It's tricky, it's a perfect yardage because it's a good wedge if the wind's down, but if it's into you, you might have to chip the 9.
"It's going to be a tough shot. If the guys catch the right wind, they'll hit some good shots. There will be some birdies there, I think. Maybe even a chance for a hole in one. You always have a chance of it rolling in. But I had a good time out there today."
Stroud's best finish ever came earlier this year when he finished fourth at the Mayakoba Golf Classic at Riviera Maya-Cancun. But he's also missed seven cuts in 13 starts this season so Sunday's finish was particularly welcome -- in more ways than one.
"(This means) that my game stacks up against the best," Stroud said. "When you play, this is a major for us. Everybody knows that. ... To me it's one of the strongest fields in golf. It's just nice to see that my game can stack up.
"It's great for me down the road when I do go on those downtimes and I'm not playing that well, to always pull back from weeks like this. To always make sure you believe in yourself and never gave up. It's a great week of confidence for me."