Ryan Moore comes up 1 shot short in Masters Par 3 Contest repeat bid

Puyallup’s Ryan Moore still doesn’t believe in Masters jinxes.

And the biggest one that golfers try and avoid was Wednesday at the Par 3 Contest at Augusta National Golf Club.

In its 55-year history, no Par 3 Contest winner has gone on to win the Masters Tournament.

After firing a 6-under-par 21 to win the Par 3 Contest last year, Moore said afterward he did not fear that dubious distinction.

By Friday, he had missed the Masters cut for the first time.

So, when Moore teed it up a year later as the Par 3 Contest defender, what was his plan?

Win it again.

And he nearly did.

Moore got off to a sizzling start with birdies on the first three holes. By the time he reached the ninth tee at 4-under, he knew he trailed co-leaders Camilo Villegas and Kevin Streelman by one shot.

He fired off a wedge that soared in a straight line over the ninth-hole pin. It dropped a few inches behind the cup, and spun back off the green.

“It looked great,” said Moore, who finished tied for third with Ben Martin and Cameron Tringale. “I thought I made it. I really did. I thought it was in the whole way.”

It was that kind of day, too. Five aces were recorded, including one by six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus. Villegas made a pair of holes-in-one in regulation, but lost to Streelman in a three-hole sudden-death playoff.

Nobody would have blamed Moore for hitting a squirrely shot here and there during his round, just to stay far from the lead.

In fact, the chatter among the Moore family before the round was that if the Cascade Christian and UNLV product was near the lead at the ninth hole, he would let his 2-year-old son, Tucker, take a whack at the tee ball.

Moore later said that would never have been the case.

“No matter what I do, if I have a chance to win something, I am going to try and win it,” Moore said. “That is how that goes. That is how I work.”

Only two men — Sandy Lyle in 1998 and Padraig Harrington in 2004 — have successfully defended their Par 3 Contest title. Moore badly wanted to join that short list.

“I wasn’t trying to avoid it,” Moore said. “And after I birdied the first three holes, I was like, ‘Maybe I will defend this title.’

“If you can make history at Augusta, that is pretty cool.”

It was certainly a different setting for Moore, who played in the second-to-last group with Jimmy Walker.

Last year, Tucker was the star showman of the group, running up to golf balls and taking a big swing at them with his plastic club. He delighted the galleries, too.

But coming into Wednesday, Tucker was a bit more subdued walking with his father and mother, Nichole, who caddied.

“(Tucker) has been feeling pretty bad (ill) for the last week,” Moore said. “He powered through his nap earlier, and he was a little tired and worn out.”

Now the big tournament begins Thursday, and Moore is playing in one of the marquee groups with three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson and top-ranked Rory McIlroy, the reigning British Open and PGA Championship winner.

“I’ve played with Phil here. And I’ve played with McIlroy a bunch,” Moore said. “It is great. It is a really cool pairing. Obviously we’ll get a pretty big crowd out there with us. But it will be fun — just a fun atmosphere out there.”

Under the watchful eye of instructor Troy Denton, Moore has worked the past three days on having more of a controlled rhythm in his golf swing — something that went amiss last week at the Houston Open.

“I definitely feel a lot better than I have, even in the last month or so,” Moore said. “It’s probably the best my swing has felt in any practice session — these last three days. I am encouraged. I’ve just got to go out and play golf tomorrow, and see what happens.”