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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 9, 2006

Appleby rules as King of Kapalua

 •  Appleby will get to play in Sony this time
 •  Kapalua will get Mercedes extension

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Stuart Appleby struck a familiar pose after winning his third consecutive Mercedes Championships at Kapalua, Maui.

JEFF CHIU | Associated Press

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KAPALUA, Maui One of the greatest players in golf history, to say nothing of some of the biggest wind gusts, tried to blow Stuart Appleby off his Mercedes Championships throne as the PGA Tour's 2006 season started.

The King of Kapalua wouldn't budge.

Appleby won his third consecutive Mercedes title yesterday, birdieing the first playoff hole at Kapalua's Plantation Course to beat Vijay Singh, who has won more money than any golfer in history not named Tiger ($45 million-plus).

Appleby became only the second golfer to three-peat at this tournament, which features the previous year's champions. Gene Littler did it from 1955 to 1957.

"First time was great," Appleby said. "Second time awesome. Third time, it's the wrong English, but more awesomer."

Appleby said the past week felt precisely like the last two years, "like the 12 rounds linked up together." At this point, he clearly feels this is his tournament to lose. He "reckoned" it wasn't going to happen yesterday. His closing 71, buoyed by a spectacular bunker shot in the playoff, backed him up.

He started the day with a two-shot advantage over U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell, whose chances were lost in the hazard on the 12th hole. Appleby was three up on Jim Furyk the last American champion here, in 2001 who took third with his fourth straight 72.

Singh was five back and carved out a 7-under-66 to catch up, beginning his charge with an eagle at the fifth a hole Appleby would also eagle.

"Vijay shot an awesome round," Appleby said. "I have no clue how he did it highlight-wise, but that's a very impressive round of golf. That's a low number that would have won it comfortably by a longshot. (But) I sort of thought I can't lose this tournament. Joe (Damiano, his caddy) said something on 15 green like 'This is our party, he's not invited.' And I thought, 'You're right, Joe. I can't change his scorecard, but he can't do this. We've got to find a way. This is our tournament.' But he nearly did."

To put Singh's final round into perspective, it was the lowest score by three shots in the wind-ravaged tournament. There were only two rounds in the 60s all week as Kapalua's tradewinds blasted gusts of 25- to 45-mph. The winning score of 8-under 284 was eight shots higher than the previous high, set by Tiger Woods in 2000.

Woods beat Ernie Els in a memorable playoff that year. Appleby's stunning close yesterday was just as compelling. In the bunker behind the 18th hole after his second playoff shot, he blasted the ball out softly and it rolled over the edge of the hole before leaving him three feet for birdie.

Singh missed his nine-foot birdie putt and Appleby drilled in the winner, just as he had drained a birdie putt from 4 feet a few minutes earlier to force the playoff.

"The putt felt harder than the bunker shot," Appleby said with a grin. "I was happy in the bunker. ... I thought, 'I got to get it up and down. Whether I hit it to 10 feet or two, I've just got to find a way.'

"When you have putts like that, they get your attention. Your heart's pounding. You've just got to sit there and say, 'I've hit this putt a thousand times, I've got to hit it again.' "

Singh's Sunday brilliance wasn't even a blip on Appleby's radar until the 15th hole, when he looked up at a greenside scoreboard.

Singh was 7-under at that point, after three-putting the 17th for his only bogey. He was about to birdie the 18th hole with a 46-foot eagle chip to tap-in distance. Appleby caught him by birdieing the 15th from 8 feet, saving par on the next hole from six, then birdieing the last hole of regulation.

"Wasn't good enough, that's all I can say," Singh told a tour representative later, refusing for the second time in the tournament to take questions in the media center. "I did everything good except make one more putt. That one on 17 ... that was a sad one."

There would be one more putting disappointment on the playoff hole, a fitting end for a man who said he was "haunted" by the putts that got away.

"The longest putt I made all week was probably six, eight feet," Singh lamented. "It's not that I putted badly, I just didn't make any putts. I hate putting in windy conditions like that."

Singh will try to recover by defending his Sony Open in Hawai'i championship this week at Waialae Country Club.

Singh's scintillating charge "completely clarified" what Appleby had to do, the Australian would say later. He has won this tournament from nearly every angle now, at least until he comes up with something more creative next year.

Appleby played the Plantation in 22-under to win the 2004 Mercedes, holding on desperately as Singh tried to "mess around with my destiny" by closing with birdies on four of the last five holes. Singh fell short by a shot that year, then led last year's Mercedes almost all week, until he crashed and burned with double-bogey on the 13th the final day.

Appleby, who opened with a 1-over 74 last year, won by a shot over Jonathan Kaye by playing the final three days in 22-under. Woods, Els (the 2003 winner) and Singh all finished in the top five.

Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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