Who is the best U.S. player under 30?
Tiger Woods turned 30 years old on Dec. 30, 2005, a significant achievement not only in the life of the world's top-ranked golfer, but also for American golf as a whole. You see, the historic birthday left us without a consensus best U.S. player under 30 for the first time in almost a decade.
No one has clearly separated himself from the pack this season, as young Americans -- young referring to those players whose age begins with a "2" -- have accounted for five PGA Tour victories. So, who's the best of the bunch? Bob Harig and Jason Sobel debate that very question in this week's edition of Alternate Shot.
Ryan Moore has yet to win on the PGA Tour and he is not as high in the world rankings as some other players. But based on what Moore did when he was healthy, he makes a strong case for the best American under 30.
Moore started playing on the tour last year after turning pro, and had no status. And he became the first player since Tiger Woods to go straight from college to a PGA Tour card without having to go to the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament. In just 12 events, he won more than $686,000 to secure his card for this year.
A slow start this year was the result of a wrist injury that still gives him problems and has caused Moore to go to an unorthodox setup in which he addresses the ball with the club parallel to the ground in order to relieve pressure on his wrist.
Despite those woes and taking two months off in the spring, Moore, 23, has managed four top 10s and has earned more than $1.1 million. Since mid-August, he has four top-12 finishes, including a tie for ninth at the PGA Championship.
Don't forget that Moore came to the PGA Tour with some amazing amateur credentials. He was a four-time All-American at UNLV and the 2005 collegiate player of the year. In 2004, he won the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Public Links, NCAA individual title and Western Amateur.
The guy's got game, which he has shown this year despite injury.
-- Bob Harig
When Ben Curtis seized the Claret Jug three years ago, he was considered a fluky British Open champion, the byproduct of an unforgiving Royal St. Georges course and Thomas Bjorn's greenside bunker transgressions. When Curtis claimed the Booz Allen Classic and 84 Lumber Classic titles earlier this season, he was regarded as an accidental winner, the result of two lesser-field, lame-duck events that will cease to exist on the PGA Tour in 2007 and beyond.
At what point does Curtis finally get his due? Well, right now -- from me, at least. I hereby proclaim him the best American-born player under the age of 30.
The facts don't lie. Curtis, 29, is the only twentysomething U.S. golfer with a major championship to his credit and the only one with more than two career victories. In addition to his two wins this season, he owns four other top-25 results and has made the cut in 14 of 22 events so far. Once the top-ranked amateur in the world, Curtis' potential is just now developing into talent. He is a player who survives on his own gumption; other than driving accuracy, he doesn't rank inside of the top 100 in any major statistical category on tour, yet remains 25th on the money list. It's a fact that speaks to the difference between Curtis and most other young U.S. golfers. While his fellow Americans are largely a group of long bombers, Curtis plods around the course, making pars when necessary and -- most importantly -- he knows how to win, a concept that has eluded many of his peers.
Let's examine the competition for this title. Jonathan Byrd owns two career wins, but none since 2004. Lucas Glover and Ryan Moore probably own greater long-term potential, but have done less with more than Curtis. Charles Howell III, Troy Matteson, J.B. Holmes, Sean O'Hair and D.J. Trahan have each won on tour, but that leaves them two victories -- not to mention a major -- short of Curtis' total.
When all is said and done, when victory totals are tallied and career earnings are added up two or three decades from now for this young generation of golfers, Ben Curtis might not be the gold standard by which we measure American golfers. But right now, of those under 30, he's the best we've got.
-- Jason Sobel
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