Appleby defends crown at Kapalua

Posted: Monday, January 10, 2005


  Defending Champion Stuart Appleby, of Australia, kisses the winners trophy after winning the Mercedes Championships Sunday, Jan. 9, 2005 at the Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii. Appleby scored a 21 under par for the tournament. AP Photo/Matt York

Defending Champion Stuart Appleby, of Australia, kisses the winners trophy after winning the Mercedes Championships Sunday, Jan. 9, 2005 at the Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii. Appleby scored a 21 under par for the tournament.

AP Photo/Matt York

KAPALUA, Hawaii — With his left leg in pain and his wife expecting their first child, Stuart Appleby almost didn't return to the Mercedes Championships to defend his title.

Then he shot 74 in the first round, another reason to have stayed home in Australia.

But there were no regrets Sunday, except from the players trying to catch him.

Appleby drove the green on the 398-yard sixth hole to make eagle, came up with two tough birdies on the back nine and closed with a 6-under 67 to become the first back-to-back winner in 22 years at the season-opening tournament.

''I just ran hard across the line and tried to get my nose in front,'' he said.

Appleby won by about that much, helped along by some surprisingly bad shots by some of the best players. Vijay Singh was tied for the lead until hooking his tee shots into the weeds and making triple bogey on No. 13. Tiger Woods missed 12 putts inside 10 feet on the Plantation Course at Kapalua this week, two of them on the back nine in the final round that ultimately cost him a chance to win.

Ernie Els needed a birdie on the par-5 18th to force a playoff, but his tee shot sailed to the right and hit a cart path, landing in the shrubs for a two-shot penalty.

The last chance came from Jonathan Kaye, who needed to get up-and-down for birdie in front of the 18th green, couldn't decide how to play the shot and wound up leaving it some 30 feet short.

''I had a decision to either fly it to the hole or run it up there,'' Kaye said. ''I guess I chose the wrong one.''

Appleby finished at 21-under 271 for a one-shot victory over Kaye, becoming the first player to win the Mercedes with a round over par since it moved to Kapalua in 1999.

Except for that opening-round, Appleby did little wrong. He played the final 55 holes without a bogey.

''You'd have to say it's slightly surprising,'' Appleby said. ''You look at where I was after round one, you would not have put any money on me.''

The 33-year-old Aussie earned $1.06 million for his sixth career victory. Best of all, he can book a trip to paradise for next year's winners-only tournament at Kapalua.

Lanny Wadkins in 1982-83 was the last player to win consecutive Mercedes Championships.

No one would have guessed Appleby would even be a candidate.

He discovered a nerve problem in his left hip and upper thigh, and couldn't hit balls without pain just days before he was supposed to leave for Hawaii. Some stretching exercises alleviated the pain, so he decided to give it a crack.

Rounds of 64-66 that followed his opening day left him only four shots behind, and Appleby used a horse racing analogy to size up his chances late Saturday afternoon.

''I tripped out of the gates, I'm galloping along to catch up and now it's a sprint to the finish,'' he said.

The sprint started early, when Appleby hit a driver on No. 6, which played downwind and has a huge hill toward the green the final 100 yards. His tee shot trickled onto the green and stopped 12 feet away for an eagle that shot him up the leaderboard. He made only two birdies the rest of the way, but that was enough.

Els cost himself a victory twice — first with his putter, then with his driver. He wound up with a 71 and tied for third, two shots behind, along with Woods.

''Got a bad break,'' the Big Easy said.

Singh made the kind of mistake with the driver — left — that he had worked so hard to eliminate from his otherwise flawless game. The 41-year-old Fijian closed with a 74 and tied for fifth.

''I lost the tournament right there,'' he said of his tee shot on No. 13. ''You can't win them all.''

Stewart Cink (71) also squandered away a chance with two bogeys on the final three holes and finished three shots behind with Singh and Adam Scott (65).

Woods was never a serious factor, but his 68 left him tied for third, two strokes behind. And Woods will look back at a week of blown birdie putts, including from 5 feet and 10 feet on the final six holes.

''I probably had more opportunities within 15 feet than I've in a long time,'' Wood said. ''I don't feel like I got anything out of my rounds.''

Still, no one was kicking himself like Kaye.

He chipped in for eagle on the ninth hole to get a share of the lead, had it to himself with a birdie on the 10th and was very much in position to force a playoff on the 18th. But he couldn't figure out how to play a 50-yard chip from the front of the green — bump it back to the flag, fly it all the way there, or chip it halfway.

He went with option No. 3, and it landed soft without much roll.

''I should have gone with my first instinct,'' Kaye said. ''I knew what I had to do. I just didn't hit the shot at the right time. If I could do it over again, I'd fly it all the way to the hole.''

Starting times were moved up because of rain in the forecast, but it came early and hard — 2 inches in the darkness of morning — and delayed the final round some five hours.

Worse yet was the Kona wind out of the opposite direction, when the Plantation Course is at its toughest.

Singh finally made his first bogey of the year at No. 4 that contained a few oddities.

He became the first player to turn down a cart ride up the 100-foot slope to the fairway. As he stood over his 50-foot putt, he noticed Kaye behind him and off to the side. Singh backed off and waved his putter at Kaye to get him to move, then he blew his putt 10 feet by the hole and missed it coming back.

Singh answered with a terrific pitch to a difficult pin placement on No. 5, the ball skidding to a stop just 3 feet behind the hole for a birdie to regain the lead, but it was clear at that point the tournament was up for grabs.

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