Australia's Appleby goes after Mercedes three-peat
Australia's Stuart Appleby will attempt to match a mark nearly 50 years old when he opens defense of his Mercedes Championships title Thursday at Kapalua's Plantation Course.
Appleby has won the last two Mercedes, overtaking Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh last year and holding off Singh the year before. Only Gene Littler has won this event three consecutive years, and that happened in 1955, '56 and '57.
Appleby is one of six players to successfully defend the title, joining luminaries Littler, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Lanny Wadkins.
The Australian's competition this year comes from 27 pros who won all but 13 of last year's PGA Tour events to qualify. Those missing 13 were captured by Tiger Woods (6), Phil Mickelson (4), Padraig Harrington (2) and Retief Goosen (1), who are not on Maui.
There are 11 Mercedes "rookies" at Kapalua, including U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell and Jason Gore, who lumbered out of obscurity with his charismatic run at the Open. He burst onto the big tour by winning three consecutive Nationwide events in the summer, then finished with a flourish when he won the 84 Lumber Classic.
Sean O'Hair, the 2005 Rookie of the Year, is the youngest player here, at 23. Fred Funk, who turns 50 in June, is the oldest after becoming one of eight golfers in their 40s to win last season.
Singh, who will be 43 next month, captured four tournaments last year, including the Sony Open in Hawai'i. He will defend that title when the tour's first full-field event of 2006 is played at Waialae Country Club, Jan. 12 to 15.
Singh has the most seniority at the Mercedes. This is his 10th appearance and he has finished in the top 10 the last six years, getting excruciatingly close to winning the past two.
He birdied four of the final five holes in 2004 to finish one behind Appleby. Last year, Singh led for three days after going without a bogey the first 57 holes. He lost his advantage with triple bogey at the 13th on the final day and tied for fifth.
In contrast, Appleby closed with 55 bogey-free holes after shooting a 74 in the opening round, which left him next to last. He was the only player without a three-putt all week and the first since Johnny Miller, in 1974, to win this event after opening over-par.
Appleby is the Mercedes career earnings leader, with $2,268,155 in five starts. First prize is $1,080,000. Last place is worth approximately $70,000.
The Plantation has replaced its greens since last year, and renovated the contours of three putting surfaces (Nos. 4, 8 and 15). There are also new bunkers on the 15th and 16th.