Appleby wins season opener

Monday, January 12, 2004

KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Stuart Appleby had every reason to be concerned.

Five shots ahead with five holes to play Sunday in the Mercedes Championships, Appleby started playing it safe as Vijay Singh began pouring in birdies. Momentum was on the side of the big Fijian, only Appleby never flinched.

Hey, he's Australian.

No worries, mate.

"I really felt like it was up to Vijay to catch me," Appleby said. "I wasn't going to let him have anything for free. I didn't make any mistakes. And unfortunately -- to the benefit of me -- he ran out of holes."

Appleby closed with a 2-under 71 and withstood a dynamic charge by Singh to win the season-opening Mercedes Championships by one stroke on the Plantation course at Kapalua. Appleby earned $1,060,000 and Singh $600,000.

Singh, who missed several good birdie chances all week, finally got his putter going with three straight birdies to close the deficit to two shots with two holes left.

His 15-footer on No. 17 just missed, and a 100-foot eagle putt on the 18th turned away.

"The putter took a lot away from me this week," said Singh, who closed with a 70. "I'm not disappointed in finishing second. I'm just disappointed in not winning."

Singh has nine consecutive finishes in the top six, a streak not even Tiger Woods has ever assembled.

Darren Clarke had a 70 and finished five shots behind in his Mercedes Championships debut.

Woods closed with two straight birdies for a 71 and tied for fourth with Retief Goosen (73). Woods earned $275,000 to top $40 million for his career.

It was an impressive performance by Appleby, even though it got tighter than he would have preferred at the end. He began the final round with a two-shot lead, and tripled it by the time he played seven holes.

"I knew Vijay was never going to go away," Appleby said.

Woods, who missed the Mercedes Championships while recovering from knee surgery, was never a factor this week.

He started the final round seven shots behind -- Woods has never made up that kind of deficit in the final round on the PGA -- and needed to make up a lot of ground in a hurry.

Instead, his chances were swallowed up on three holes.

His second shot was just short of the green, leaving him about 30 feet for eagle. His putt turned at the cup, then caught the grain, slope and wind as it trickled 10 feet away. He had to settle for par.

On the 398-yard sixth hole, where marshals had players wait until the green was clear before teeing off, Woods' drive got hung up in the right rough, and his chip caught another slope and rolled some 50 feet away. Then, he overshot the seventh green for bogey, falling nine strokes behind.

birdie putt on the next hole.

Singh attacked the pin at No. 17 and had about 15 feet, but it just missed to the left.

Appleby played well left of the hazard on the par-5 18th, against the grandstand, and chipped to 8 feet. He missed the birdie putt, but by then, it didn't matter.

It was the fifth victory of his career, and second in his last four starts on the PGA Tour. Appleby won the Las Vegas Invitational in October to qualify for the Mercedes Championships.

He became the first player to qualify for next year's event.

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