Originally created 01/12/04

Appleby wins season-opening tournament



KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Back on Maui for the first time in four years, Stuart Appleby made sure he wouldn't have to wait that long to return to the winners-only Mercedes Championships.

Appleby built a six-shot lead Sunday in windy conditions at Kapalua, then held off a dynamic charge from Vijay Singh to win the season-opening event on the PGA Tour.

The 32-year-old Aussie closed with a 2-under 71 for a one-stroke victory over Singh, who made Appleby work for the $1.06 million first-place check.

Leading by five shots with five holes to play, Appleby began playing conservatively and it nearly cost him. Singh birdied three straight holes, and had a chance to force an unlikely playoff until his 100-foot eagle putt from just off the 18th green turned away.

Appleby finished with six straight pars and was at 22-under 270.

Singh (70) earned $600,000 and showed he was serious about challenging Tiger Woods for No. 1 in the world. It was Singh's ninth consecutive finish in the top six, a streak not even Woods has ever assembled.

The big Fijian hit the ball better than anyone on the Plantation course, but simply missed too many putts inside 10 feet. When he finally got it going, he ran out of holes.

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.

Good thing.

He tried to finish without any serious mistakes, making Singh catch him with a birdie on every hole. Singh almost pulled it off.

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.

It might not have mattered.

No one played more consistently than Appleby.

He was in his one little world - paradise, indeed, on Maui - and made winning look easy until the end.

Singh helped, thanks to another Jekyll & Hyde performance with his putter. He three-putted twice on the front nine and didn't make a birdie until the par-5 ninth.

Appleby hit his approach just above the hole on No. 4 for birdie, and played an aggressive second shot on No. 5, a 3-wood into the stiff Kona winds that carried a gorge and landed in the middle of the green. That left him an uphill putt and a simple birdie.

When he rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 7, he was at 23 under and led Singh by six.

Singh missed two more short birdies on Nos. 12 and 13, but then poured it on. He holed a 12-foot putt from just off the 14th green, made a 10-footer for birdie on the par-5 15th, then read the grain perfectly as he curled in a 20-foot 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.

Divots: David Toms, who had to miss the Mercedes Championships because of surgery on his left wrist, received last-place money of $65,000. It will not count on the PGA Tour money list. ... No one hit the green all week on the 398-yard sixth hole, which has a 70-foot slope down toward the putting surface. ... Jim Furyk failed to finish in the top 10 for the first time since the Mercedes Championships moved to Kapalua in 1999. He was 11th. The streak now belongs only to Tiger Woods, who has never finished worst than 10th in five appearances. ... Davis Love III hit a 476-yard drive on the 663-yard closing hole, which played downhill and with the wind.