Originally created 01/09/06

Appleby often overlooked as a big hitter



KAPALUA, Hawaii - Stuart Appleby hit the longest drive at the Mercedes Championships, a 426-yard tee shot that nearly went through the par-4 12th green.

No one should be surprised - the wind was at his back, the final 150 yards are downhill and the grain of the grass feeds toward the green.

And no one should be surprised that it came from Appleby.

He has been ranked among the top 10 in driving distance only once in his 10 years on the PGA Tour, that coming in 2000 when he was eighth. A year ago, Appleby was 19th in distance and averaged 300.6 yards.

But one only had to look at the Presidents Cup, where Appleby often ripped it past his partner, Vijay Singh, and one of his opponents, Tiger Woods. And he overpowered Kapalua when he won last year.

So why doesn't his name roll off the tongue when talking about the big hitters on the PGA Tour?

Appleby is not among those who prefer to bash it and play a shorter shot to the green out of the rough. He likes to control his tee shot, even if that means giving up some length.

"I was a pretty long hitter when I was younger," Appleby said. "I was pretty wild, too. I had to learn to control the ball a bit more. Then last year, I decided to open up a bit more and I gained a good climb in distance. My length has grown due to some confidence in my swing, and some trusting. Once you get that, you can open it up a bit."

Sure enough, he did give up some accuracy.

Appleby was 155th in driving accuracy last year. In 2004, he was 42nd in distance and 125th in accuracy. Then again, it is rare when a power hitter also ranks highly in distance.

"It's not likely there's going to be an amazingly straight driver that hits it a mile," Appleby said. "(Greg) Norman in his day was probably the straightest and the longest. That's the best combination."

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RETURN TO KAPALUA: The season-opening Mercedes Championships has been played at Kapalua since 1999. When the 28 winners arrived for this year's event, however, the future of the tournament was unclear.

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen staying home did not help negotiations.

But during a gala dinner Friday night that featured Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh, tournament officials said they had reached an agreement with the PGA Tour to return to Kapalua for four to six years.

The tour is completing talks with TV partners, although one scenario is the new deal would be six years, not four. Meanwhile, negotiations continue with title sponsor Mercedes.

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BART DOES AUGUSTA: Bart Bryant had knee surgery to clean out some cartilage two days after winning the Tour Championship. He couldn't playing golf for a month, and then only sparingly.

But that didn't keep him from a trip to Augusta National.

The 43-year-old Bryant is eligible for the Masters for the first time in his career, and he brought a friend to play with a member the second week of December.

"I played about four or five holes each day, then just sat in the cart," Bryant said. "I putted on some of the greens, got to see the golf course and get a feel for what it's like."

Bryant realizes it won't be the same Augusta National he sees in April. It was cold, the grass was in the process of its winter overseeding, and it was empty.

"It was neat just to drive down Magnolia Lane," he said. "You've seen it on TV. It was neat to walk out of the back of the clubhouse, you see 18, you see 9, across down the hill at No. 8 fairway. I'll remember just seeing that panoramic view. That will stick me. When I get there for the Masters, it's going to look totally different because you're going to have people and tents."

Obviously, he's a newcomer to the Masters.

It's the only major that doesn't have corporate tents.

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CHECKMATE: Michael Campbell must have had dinner on his mind when using chess terms to discuss his strategy for the final round of the Mercedes Championships, where he trailed Stuart Appleby by two shots.

"I'm just going to pace myself, see what happens," he said. "Like a game of chess. Leave my prawns out first, my bishops and the queen can go out there later and go in for the attack."

Prawns?

"Sorry, pawns," he said with a laugh. "Prawns on the barbie, mate."

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AN UPHILL WALK SPOILED: For the last seven years, players have been given a ride in a cart from the fourth tee up a steep hill to the fourth fairway.

The reason given by the tour was to help pace of play, although the field rarely has more than 34 players, and this year has only 14 twosomes. And it was peculiar that the tour allowed the carts in 2000, the year the PGA Tour appealed the Casey Martin decision to the Supreme Court.

Martin successfully sued the tour to use a cart because of degenerative disease in his right leg.

On Friday, Brad Faxon hit his tee shot and kept walking, declining an offer to ride in the cart. This from a man coming off surgery to repair ligaments in his right knee.

"It's stupid," Faxon said as he climbed the hill. "We should be walking."