- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2009

Perhaps the real Ryan Moore has finally arrived on the PGA Tour. Before his maiden tour victory over Kevin Stadler at last week’s Wyndham Championship, Moore’s pro career was one of the great enigmas of the last decade.

“That was a huge week last week for me to break through like that,” said Moore, now one of the favorites to challenge Tiger Woods in this week’s opening round of the FedEx Cup Playoffs at the Barclays. “Yeah, this has been a long time [coming]. It feels good to get it off my back.”

It’s a hyperbolic stretch to call anyone the “next Tiger Woods,” but Moore’s amateur performance in 2004 and 2005 suggested he might be the closest thing since the current world No. 1 stacked up three straight U.S. Amateur titles from 1994 to 1996.

In fact, the season the Tacoma, Wash., native authored in 2004 as a junior at UNLV was trans-Tiger. That year, Moore won the four premier amateur events in the nation, backing up his victory in the NCAA championship with titles at the Western Amateur, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Amateur Public Links.

The four-time All-American then captured the Hogan and Jack Nicklaus awards as college golf’s top player as a senior in 2005, finishing tied for 13th at the Masters and tied for 57th at the U.S. Open before turning pro later that summer. Completing the circuit of Tiger connections, he then became the first player since Woods in 1996 to play his way onto the PGA Tour via sponsor’s exemptions by notching four more top-25 finishes down the stretch in 2005 to finish 117th on the money list and earn full-time playing privileges for the following season.

In the winter of 2006, however, Moore fractured the tiny hamate bone in his left hand and plummeted from future star to rank and file. The hamate bone lies just beneath the pinky exactly at the anchor point where the butt of the club rests against the hand. Always a feel player with considerable hand action and lag, Moore was suddenly in too much pain to fire his wrists, even after an operation in March 2006 that caused him to miss 10 weeks of the season, including the Masters.

Instead of applying for a major medical extension or taking time off, Moore completely rebuilt his swing. His new move was mechanical and ugly, featuring a near vertical backswing and looping reset at the top to minimize stress on his hand. But Moore made it work, surviving for three seasons on tour in the middle of the money list pack on the force of sheer guts, talent and an uncanny knack for course management.

The media continued to juxtapose his phenomenal amateur results with his pedestrian PGA Tour record, questioning his desire and labeling him an underachiever.

“It’s hard to explain how difficult it is to play injured,” Moore said. “To be injured and for me to still be able to get around and actually almost win a few times and have a fair bit of top-10s and keep myself in the top 125, I was proud of that, just battling through. It was really difficult to not get too frustrated, but I knew eventually I was going to feel like myself again. Eventually I was going to feel comfortable.”

More than three years after surgery, Moore finally felt healthy again this summer. He tied for 10th at the U.S. Open, backed it up by tying for fourth at the Travelers and tying for 11th at the AT&T; National before finally notching his first victory last week.

Now 26 after sacrificing four years of his career to a gimpy hand, Moore finally looks and feels like the prodigy of his amateur days.

“My hand was hurting my very first professional tournament, so I can’t really say I’ve been myself the whole time I’ve been out here,” Moore said. “But I started finding something at the U.S. Open, started feeling something that wasn’t pain. I’ve played pretty well since. After more than three years of not playing the way I’m capable of playing, maybe this is a fresh start.”

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