Believe it or not, amateur Moore thinks he can win

The Masters

April 09, 2005|By JOHN EISENBERG

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Ryan Moore, the college kid, was standing with a few reporters under a clubhouse veranda shortly after threatening weather suspended play at Augusta National yesterday. A reporter mentioned having heard spectators discussing Moore's comment that he thought he could win the Masters this year.

"Did I really say that?" said Moore, a 22-year-old senior at Nevada-Las Vegas who put together one of the greatest seasons in amateur golf history in 2004.

No one said anything at first, but then a smile eased onto Moore's face, effectively answering his question. Yes, he had recently told The Augusta Chronicle he thought he could win the Masters even though no amateur has finished in the top 10 since 1962.

The comment struck some as particularly cocky, and Moore's smile yesterday made it clear that, yes, he had heard about it. But unlike some athletes who are older and should be more mature, Moore didn't back away from a strong statement that had raised a ruckus.

Looking like he had walked straight off the set of television's teen soap opera The O.C., the Puyallup, Wash., native just reiterated what he had said.

"I've never been in a tournament in my life that I didn't think I could win. Why start now?" Moore said. "I just think I can. I believe I can. I completely believe in myself physically and mentally."

He completed the rain-delayed first round with a 1-under-par 71 yesterday, leaving him three strokes ahead of Tiger Woods and one stroke behind Phil Mickelson, his playing partner for the first two rounds. He didn't get to start his second round before play was halted.

Mickelson, incidentally, was among those who had heard about him calling his shot before the tournament. But instead of condemning Moore, Mickelson, a star at Arizona State in his college days, told reporters he agreed that Moore could win this week.

"Is that right? Hmm, that's nice of him to have said that," Moore said.

It certainly works in his favor that the tournament's final three days will now be crammed into two, weather permitting. Pros seldom play more than 18 holes a day, but collegians routinely play 36.

That could cause problems for a few pros whose conditioning is, um, lacking. (Hello, John Daly.) But while they're huffing and puffing as the holes mount today, Moore, a well-built 5 feet 9 and 165 pounds, figures to sail through.

"We play 36 in probably half our [amateur] tournaments," he said. "I'm sure it won't faze most of these guys [the pros]. But I know it won't faze me."

But the real reason Mickelson (or anyone) would genuinely believe he has a chance this week is his 2004 performance. He won everything in sight, including the U.S. Amateur, the NCAAs, the U.S. Amateur Public Links and the Western Amateur.

No golfer had ever won the first three in the same year, and only Jack Nicklaus had previously won the latter three in the same year.

"I guess I learned that winning is contagious," Moore said.

With nothing left to prove, he could easily have turned pro before beginning his senior year at UNLV. But Moore, known for his calm demeanor and smooth tempo on the course (occasional bold comment notwithstanding), made a decision that reflected his mature game and personality.

"I didn't think about [turning pro] for very long because I just didn't see what the rush was," he said. "The way I look at it, I have four years to go to college, and then hopefully the rest of my life to be out here [on the PGA Tour]. There was no point in getting going early."

Actually, there would be more than one million reasons to have come here as a pro if he won. The Masters doesn't announce its prize money totals until tomorrow night, but Mickelson won $1.17 million last year.

Moore just shrugged when someone pointed that out.

"I'm having a great time being here as an amateur," he said.

He has done it before - in 2003 he made the cut and tied for 45th. Then, as now, he stayed in the "Crow's Nest," the traditional living quarters for Masters amateurs, located above the clubhouse.

Amateurs are an annual presence here primarily because tournament founder Bobby Jones was a lifelong amateur. But many are overmatched.

Frank Stranahan and Ken Venturi had chances to win in 1947 and 1956. Charlie Coe finished tied for second in 1961. More recently, Matt Kuchar had crowds roaring when he contended for awhile in 1998.

But no amateur has come close in a long time in the tournament invented by the greatest amateur ever.

Moore, whose career rivals Jones' in some ways, could be the one.

"My goal is to play my best," he said. "If that means [finishing in] the top 10 or 40th, fine. If it means winning, that would be great."

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