When golf turns to its fall season, that’s when Ryan Moore heats up.
The graduate of Cascade Christian and UNLV won his third tournament in as many years – all during golf’s fall season – on Sunday, closing out chasers Kevin Na, Sergio Garcia and Gary Woodland with an imaginative display of back-nine shot-making to defend his title at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Birdies at the 13th, 15th and 17th holes helped Moore pull away for a three-stroke victory, making him the first golfer to defend a PGA Tour title since Tiger Woods did at the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida.
His final round 5-under-par 67 brought his tournament total to 17-under 271, three shots ahead of Na, Garcia and Woodland.
The win not only gives him an automatic berth into the Masters in April – his favorite tournament – but it all but likely sews up his place at his near-hometown U.S. Open in June at Chambers Bay Golf Course.
In the past three seasons, Moore won the 2012 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas where he now lives, and this tournament held at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club — which is quickly becoming his favorite international stop.
“You know, I love it down here. I enjoy the trip every single year – not just because I keep winning here, but that would be nice if that kept happening,” he joked to reporters his post-tournament press conference.
“But no, I’ve enjoyed it from the get-go when we played it at The Mines (Golf Club), and I love this golf course. I think this is a really good test of golf. It tests every aspect of your game.”
Considering the way Moore’s 2013 season took a late-summer downtown – struggling in the final round of the PGA Championship, exiting the FedEx Cup playoffs before the Tour Championship and ultimately being left off the U.S. Ryder Cup squad – winning his fourth career PGA Tour tournament this early in the wraparound 2014-15 season was a huge rebound performance.
Moore, 31, was asked why the fall has been so successful for him.
“I have no idea,” Moore said. “Maybe it’s because the end (of 2014) is near. I see that I’m going to have like six or seven weeks off pretty soon, and it’s like, ‘All right, it’s kind of the home stretch, and just play some good golf and finish off the year.’”
The shot that many will remember is the layup tee shot at the drivable par-4 14th hole.
On Saturday, Moore hit his driver, got close and made a birdie. But in the final round, he laid up in the fairway and spun a sand wedge from 120 yards that bounced inches short of the cup, and danced around it before stopping 18 inches behind it.
It was especially pivotal because Na – the co-leader – hit his tee shot around the fringe, but failed to get up and down for birdie. Moore birdied the hole to take the solo lead for good at 16-under.
“That was my strategy all along – that’s where I was comfortable with that (back-left) pin,” Moore said. “To hit a great wedge shot in there was perfect.”
On the next hole, a par 3, Moore sent his tee shot pin-high on the back of the green, sank the putt and suddenly had a two-shot advantage.
Moore not only bogeyed No. 16, but he had a chance to fall back into a tie for the lead with Na, who faced a 3-foot putt for birdie. But Na’s putt darted left, keeping him one stroke back.
The 17th hole, a par 4, is where Moore clinched the tournament. Na’s tee shot found the trees on the right and was never found, leading to a double bogey. And from the middle of the fairway, Moore’s pitching wedge shot nearly went into the hole, stopping inches short of it for an easy birdie.
He walked to the final tee with a three-stroke lead – and another tournament victory in hand.
“It really does set the (2014-15) schedule for me,” said Moore, who also gets exemptions to play in the Tournament of Champions, The Players Championship and The PGA Championship later this season. “It makes me really get to just choose and play what I want to play, and not necessarily adding stuff in to wear myself out.”