By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - Defending champion Ryan Moore returns from injury at this week's John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois where he hopes to spark the kind of solid late-season run he enjoyed last year.
The American world number 43, sidelined since early June with a shoulder injury, should be one to watch in a relatively weak field at TPC Deere Run where he has recorded 23 consecutive sub-par rounds.
Among the other leading contenders are Charley Hoffman, who has finished in the top 10 in each of his last two events, twice major winner Zach Johnson, who has six top-three finishes here since 2009 including victory in 2012, and Steve Stricker, the only man to win the event in three consecutive years.
After earning his fifth PGA Tour win at last year's John Deere Classic, Moore had a red-hot run that included a playoff loss to Rory McIlroy in the season-ending Tour Championship and a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Now, in his only tune-up ahead of next week's British Open at Royal Birkdale, Moore is confident the shoulder injury that kept him out of this year's U.S. Open will not hold him back.
"I probably could have come back couple weeks ago if I really needed to, but I thought this was the right time with the end of the season being a pretty big push here," Moore, who will tee off with fellow Americans Kyle Stanley and William McGirt in Thursday's opening round, told reporters.
"I was fortunate I was in a position where I was in a decent spot in the FedExCup (standings) so I could take a few more weeks and just get the right amount of rest and rehab in."
World number 20 Daniel Berger will be eager to get going as this week marks his first tournament start since Jordan Spieth stole a victory from his fellow American when he holed a bunker shot during a playoff at the Travelers Championship.
Johnson has only two top-10 finishes in 16 starts this year but his game is considered an ideal fit for TPC Deere Run.
"I have not been putting well. That's really what it boils down to. I've got to make more putts. I know what to do. That darn word of 'patience' certainly is probably paramount," said Johnson.
"That's been my emphasis over the last so many odd weeks is just making some putts and trying to score. My game is fine. Just hasn't surfaced yet."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)