Back nine at Sawgrass no problem for Moore

Saturday May 8th, 2010

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Well, it turns out that Tour players look at their scorecards just like we do. You know how it is: you go out in even fives, you start doing some advanced math on the 10th tee and realize that if you shoot 44 on the back nine you can turn in your first 89! Nothing spells back-nine 51 faster than that.

Which gets us to Ryan Moore. In the opening round at the Players, he shot a rock-solid 67 when he came home in 31. Friday morning couldn't come quickly enough for Moore, who would be playing the back-nine first. The Thursday vibes were still fresh when he stood on the 10th tee at half-past eight Friday morning, ready to have at it again. He did what you wouldn't think was possible. He improved on his 31. He did what Rory McIlroy did on the back-nine at Quail Hollow. He shot 30. Thirty!

It used to be, Tour players had to turn in nine-hole scores when they made the turn. The Tour keeps track of nine-hole records. (Moore's 30 tied the back-nine record. The front-nine record is 30, too.) Just as every baseball website will report a team's record 81 games into the season, golfers always want to know where they are at the halfway mark.

"It doesn't really make sense, if you think about it," Ryan Moore said when his round was over. All 18 holes, after all, count equally. Still, it's a traditional mid-semester report card for how your day is going.

Ryan Moore's an interesting dude. He's from Tacoma, Wash., and he does things his own way. You may remember the tie he wore while playing at the Masters last month. You may know that his clubs are marked not with traditional numbers, but with lofts. (He'll say to his caddie, "Just a regular 40 here?" That's degrees of loft. The word 8-iron is never mentioned.) His clubs are not manufactured by Ping or Titleist or TaylorMade, but by Scratch Golf, a company that specializes in hand-shaped clubs. Moore is an owner of Scratch Golf. So is Steve Ballmer, an amateur golfer from Washington State who works for Microsoft. (He's the CEO.) One can imagine Ballmer at his work station on Friday, with one eye on his desktop, following Ryan Moore's scores after playing the front nine with no score worse than 4. Check out this card: 443 243 334. Thirty.

And then came his second nine, which for Moore on Friday was the front nine. Traditionally, the splits are shocking similar. On Thursday, for instance, the front-nine scoring average was 35.48. The back-nine scoring average was 35.62. But Moore followed his 30 with a 40. Forty! You could shoot 40. (Actually, you couldn't shoot 40, not at the Players, not from the back tees with the fairways lined with spectators and the greens Stimping at 12 to 13, not unless you are a super legit 3-handicapper or better.)

The weird part, for Moore, is that he felt like the same golfer after he shot his nine-hole course record 30. He wasn't engaging any crazy talk, like, "If I can just play in in 29, I can shoot 59!" No, nothing like that.

"I was just thinking, 'Keep making the swings you're making,'" Moore said after his round. "And I did. But the putts that were going in on the front weren't going in on the back, and I had two horrible lies in bunkers." Both led to double-bogeys, the first on 5, when his ball buried in the fluffy Sawgrass sand, trucked in from the confectionary sugar factory, the other on eight, when he had one foot in and one foot out of a trap. Moore, as you would expect, prefers the firm, rocky, dark, nasty traps that you might find, say, on some of the courses in greater Tacoma that he knew as a kid.

In any event, 70 for the day, no matter how you got there, was a decent-enough score Friday at the Players. Moore's two back-nine scores, 31 and 30, are breathtaking. Too bad, for Moore, golf isn't like the SATs, where colleges (they claim) will consider your best Math score and Verbal score from however many times you take the test. Sixty one — yikes.

Still, come Sunday, if Moore is anywhere within a half-dozen or so shots of the lead when he makes the turn, he'll be thinking very low thoughts. Come home in 30 or 31 in the final round, and he could win.

"I don't know what it is, but I like the back nine here," Moore said.

Any why wouldn't he?

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