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Ex-UNLV golf star rediscovers form at John Deere Classic

It’s pretty hard to find any similarities between the desert golf of Southern Nevada and the Midwest charm of TPC Deer Run in Silvis, Illinois. But the leaderboard at last week’s John Deere Classic was littered with Las Vegas players.

Ryan Moore and Kevin Na tied for second, while Seamus Power — the Irish golfer who lists his home as Las Vegas as of U.S. Open qualifying last month — tied for eighth. Maverick McNealy started Sunday in contention but fell back to 18th on a day in which he made an unlikely 18 consecutive pars.

The finish was a bright light in what has been a lost season for Moore, the five-time PGA Tour winner, amateur legend and NCAA individual champion when he played for UNLV nearly 20 years ago. Moore has been plagued for a year by a balky back he originally hurt last August.

Moore, 38, rarely plays consecutive weeks any longer, has missed huge chunks of the season and hadn’t posted a top-10 finish in 18 months.

“Someone put it to me recently, it’s not age, it’s miles at this point. You put a lot of miles on your body, whether it’s traveling or playing tournaments and all this stuff,” Moore said Sunday. “At some point, your body is going to tell you no, it doesn’t want to do it anymore.”

He said what used to take a couple of days to recover from now takes longer.

“You don’t bounce back after four or five days of rest,” he said. “It takes a couple weeks now to kind of get back to feeling good.”

Moore was encouraged by his play at the John Deere and how his body held up, but not enough to risk a second consecutive week of golf. By virtue of his finish at the John Deere, he earned a spot in this week’s British Open but declined the invitation.

“There’s just too many variables there,” Moore said. “My body did feel good this week, but it’s a long flight, it’s a long week. It’s hard, tough, cold conditions. That makes me a little nervous just forcing it.”

Moore isn’t alone in skipping this week’s major. Traveling to Europe when the coronavirus remains an issue played a role in Na withdrawing from the tournament last week. Seventeen players have opted out, including PGA Tour winners Hideki Matsuyama, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Matthew Wolff, Cam Davis, K.H. Lee, Sungjae Im and Si-Woo Kim.

“It was a tough decision, but for my family and me, it is best to skip the Open this year,” Na said in a statement. “I will be back next year. It’s one of my favorite weeks, and I would love to hold the Claret Jug one day.”

U.S. Amateur qualifier

Jackson Rivera and John Kim finished at 14 under for two rounds at Bear’s Best last week to share medalist honors and qualify for the U.S. Amateur.

Rivera and Kim shot matching rounds of 66-64. Rivera, a recent high school graduate from San Diego headed to Southern California, had 14 birdies and no bogeys.

The third qualifying spot went to Yuki Moriyama, a 2020 graduate of the American Heritage Academy in Henderson who recently completed his freshman season at Oregon. Moriyama had the low round of the tournament, an opening 63, followed by a 69 to finish at 12 under.

George Leigh and Hazen Newman are the first and second alternates after finishing at 11 under.

The U.S. Amateur begins Aug. 9 at famed Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania.

Greg Robertson is a freelance reporter who covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at robertsongt@gmail.com.

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