KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Ryan Moore was reminded of how much the Ryder Cup helped shape his career after he stuffed two wedges for tap-in birdies, shot a 67 and shared the lead with Justin Thomas going into the weekend at the SBS Tournament of Champions.
Only it really had nothing to do with his score or anything he did Friday at Kapalua.
One question into his interview after the second round, he was asked about the Ryder Cup.
“I’m leading a golf tournament, and that’s all you guys are asking about,” Moore said.
He wasn’t the least bit bothered. Being chosen as the final player on the U.S. team at Hazeltine and holing the putt that clinched victory for the Americans was one of the best times of his career. He simply was illustrating how a week like that defined him as a player.
For now, anyway.
“I’m OK with that,” Moore said. “Before that, I was a guy that was a really good amateur 10 years ago.”
He was right again. Moore won the NCAA title, the U.S. Public Links Amateur and the U.S. Amateur in the summer of 2004. The following fall, he became the first player since Tiger Woods to go from college to the PGA Tour without having to go through Q-school.
And what would the narrative have been five years ago?
“Why haven’t you won more tournaments, really,” Moore said with a smile. “That would have been the questions I was getting five years ago.”
Moore has five PGA Tour victories, the most recent the John Deere Classic last July that earned his return trip to Kapalua. Could he have won more? Every player would say that, and they all know that it’s getting harder to do that on the PGA Tour.
His career has been businesslike, much like his personality.
From that 2005 season, when he earned his card in just 12 tournaments, Moore has only made it to the Tour Championship three times, but he has never gone a full season when he hasn’t earned at least $1 million.
Last season was the best, sparked by his late surge through the FedEx Cup. He lost in a three-way playoff at the Tour Championship that Rory McIlroy won on the fourth extra hole. That was enough for Davis Love III to use his last pick on Moore, and the 34-year-old delivered. He went 2-1 at Hazeltine, which included the 1-up victory over Lee Westwood in singles that secured the first American victory in eight years.
“It was an amazing experience to be part of that team and to actually help the team out and have a couple points for the team,” Moore said.
But it wasn’t enough to change him as a player, except for giving him a taste of the highest form of pressure in golf. One area where Moore has failed to perform is in the majors. He has only two top 10s in the 35 majors he has played (four as an amateur). There was a tie for 10th at Bethpage Black in the 2009 U.S. Open, and a tie for ninth at Medinah in the 2006 PGA Championship.
He described the Ryder Cup as playing the 72nd hole of a tournament, tied for the lead, on every hole of the match.
“Coming down the stretch, and in those kind of circumstances, I think it can definitely help how I’m going to feel in those situations knowing I’ve been there and I’ve handled it in that type of situation,” Moore said. “But I don’t think it’s changed me as a golfer or my perspective on things. I think it kind of makes you maybe just a little bit more comfortable with that type of pressure, really.”
There’s not much of a comparison on Maui.
Moore said he gave up on the notion of a “working vacation” four or five years ago, whether he’s in the desert, in the heartland of America or playing golf with views of surfers below the 11th green at Kapalua and humpback whales breeching on the horizon.
This is strictly business, and it shows.
He is tied for the lead and knows the trophy is a long way off, especially with so many players right behind him – Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker, his Ryder Cup teammates, were one shot behind. Hideki Matsuyama, going for his fourth straight victory, was only three shots back.
Moore played Friday with Justin Thomas, the 23-year-old who can flat-out smash it and is getting to the point where he knows where it’s going.
What would a victory mean? It would be a big step toward making another U.S. team, with the Presidents Cup later this year. It would be another victory. And it would mean he gets to start next year at Kapalua. That’s enough for him.