Golf's next young star was on the sideline for a good chunk of his rookie season. Instead of earning the first PGA Tour win everyone was waiting for, he was worried about getting healthy and earning enough money to stay on tour.

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After surgery on his left hand and a handful of other nagging injuries plagued the early stages of his PGA career, Ryan Moore finally felt good at last month’s Honda Classic.

For the first time in a long time, he felt comfortable with his swing. There was no hand or wrist pain, no soreness in his shoulder or hip. When he teed off in the Honda Classic’s first round March 1, the Puyallup native again felt like the golfer who in 2004 enjoyed one of the best seasons ever by an amateur. Felt like the person who in 2005 became the first golfer since Tiger Woods to earn his PGA Tour card out of college without going through qualifying school.

So what did Moore do when he rediscovered pain-free golf?

He played poorly and missed the cut by three strokes.

“It was weird playing and not having to think about not hurting, and I played horrible,” said Moore. “I had kind of gotten used to getting by. The pain was gone all of a sudden, and it was like, ‘Wow, I don’t know what to do with myself.'”

The same guy who last summer tied for ninth at the PGA Championship playing with a modified swing to alleviate pain in his surgically repaired hand was now struggling when his body finally felt right.

Puyallup’s Ryan Moore turned pro in 2005. His scoring average last season was 71.15. A look at his career stats:

47

PGA starts

0

1st place finishes

2

2nd place finishes

0

3rd place finishes

6

Top 10 finishes

14

Top 25 finishes

28

Cuts made

$2,101,718

Earnings

Source: pgatour.com

“I almost didn’t know how to handle it and I played terribly,” Moore recalled of his seven-over par performance in the first two rounds. “Piece by piece, it’s coming back though.”

Coming back indeed. The next week, Moore finished in a tie for eighth in the PODS Championship.

Now, it seems, Moore is ready to get back on track as one of the Tour’s most promising young golfers.

In 2004, Moore enjoyed a stretch of golf in which he won the NCAA championship, the U.S. Amateur, the Western Amateur, the U.S. Public Links Championship, and the Sahalee Players Championship. People called it the best performance by an amateur since Bobby Jones’ 1930 season. Heady company to be sure, but Moore tries not to focus on his hype.

“It’s flattering that people would say those things or write those things, but I’m just going to try to go out and play my best,” he said. “That never changes. That’s all I did when I was an amateur, all I did in college, and all I’m doing now.”

Moore was the best amateur at the 2005 Masters, finishing in a tie for 13th. Moore turned pro after playing in the U.S. Open as an amateur, and in the remainder of the season he earned enough playing under sponsor exemptions to get a PGA Tour card for 2006 and avoid a dreaded trip to qualifying school.

But what was supposed to be Moore’s first full season on tour was shorter than he expected.

An injury he had played through in 2005 turned out to be a fractured hook of the hamate bone in his left hand. He had surgery in March of 2006 and missed the next eight weeks, including the Masters, which he had qualified for with his top-15 finish in 2005.

Golf’s next young star was on the sideline for a good chunk of his rookie season. Instead of earning the first PGA Tour win everyone was waiting for, he was worried about getting healthy and earning enough money to stay on tour.

“It’ll happen when it’s supposed to happen I guess,” Moore said of waiting for his first win. “Do I feel like it might have happened sooner if I wasn’t injured? Yeah, maybe. But I’ve got to make the most of the situation I have. Now it’s just easing my way back into it and getting confident again.”

Last year was far from a total loss, however. Playing in 22 events, Moore finished 81st on the money list, securing his Tour status for this season. He had four top-10 finishes, including a tie for second at the Buick Championship.

Then there was that ninth-place finish with the most talked-about swing at the PGA Championship. During the International, the tournament before the year’s final major, Moore experienced increasing pain in his surgically repaired hand. During a practice round at Medinah, he discovered he could alleviate that pain by using an old practice drill on the course. After addressing the ball normally, Moore would lift the club parallel to the ground at a 90 degree angle from his body, then start his swing.

“I definitely had some interesting looks and some questions about it,” said Moore, who secured a spot in this year’s PGA Championship with the result. “But I played well, so nobody could say much about it.”

“I’ll probably look back on that throughout my career as one of my proudest moments. My hand really killed all week and I thought, ‘Well, I can go out and try to swing normal and I’m going to be in too much pain and I’ll miss the cut, or I can do this, it doesn’t hurt quite as much, and somehow try to get it around.’ It’s definitely something I’ll remember quite fondly for the rest of my career.”

Moore continued the odd swing the rest of last season, and during the early stages of this season.

As the pain has gone away, however, Moore has gone back to his swing, and is feeling like his old self.

He’s hopeful the newfound comfort won’t lead to any more missed cuts.

“As of [last month], I feel exactly like it did back then [in 2004],” said Moore. “It’s very refreshing. I’m really, really excited.”