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Friday, January 9, 2004



[ MERCEDES CHAMPIONSHIPS ]


art
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Stuart Appleby shot from a bunker to the second green yesterday during the first round of the Mercedes Championships in Kapalua, Maui. Appleby has overcome tragedy and has a one-stroke lead.


Focused Appleby
bounces back

The Australian weathered tragedy
when he lost his first wife, but
has a new life with his second


KAPALUA, Maui >> Stuart Appleby didn't know a difficult four-year journey had ended until he said, "I do" with current wife Ashley.

After missing the cut at the 1998 British Open, Appleby lost his first wife, Renay, to a tragic accident outside a train station in London. While many wondered how the Australian stayed focused during that difficult stretch, Appleby managed to keep his PGA Tour card with a steady hand inside the ropes.

Outside it, there were many painful moments of dealing with a personal loss that was anything but private. Once meeting Ashley and marrying her 13 months ago, Appleby was able to join the living once more.

"I did go through a lot of personal issues in my life that somehow I managed to separate from my golf," said Appleby, who fired a 7-under 66 to hold a one-shot lead at the $5.3 million Mercedes Championships.

"I look back and go, 'How did I do that?' I have no idea how I got out there, and to be honest, in the middle of a golf shot, that was the only thing in my mind, when everything else, apart from that golf shot, felt like a mess.

"I think now with the stability I have and feel with Ashley, I have much more continuity and balance and harmony in my life now than I did I guess through the periods before then. She's been a fantastic power, energy source to my life."

After his first wife's death, the Australian resident managed one win at the Houston Open in 1999, but didn't make it back to the top of a PGA Tour leaderboard until last October's Las Vegas Invitational. Appleby is glad to be a part of this week's winners-only event after the four-year absence.

"I really wasn't thinking about this tournament at all because this tournament was really only just a few days after last year," Appleby said. "I haven't thought about this being 2004. But when they ask you what it's like to be here, you say it's nice, you had a good season, it's an honor to play here, it's a privilege to play here, you're playing with the best players of the year previous. I don't think any player can deny that."

It's hard to deny how well Appleby has played of late. He crossed the $10 million plateau in career earnings with his victory at Las Vegas. He's not sure if he'll be able to defend that title in October because the Nevada city has yet to secure a sponsor for that five-day event.

Appleby also managed second-place finishes at the Shell Houston Open and the 84 Lumber Classic of Pennsylvania last year en route to pocketing nearly $2.7 million. Had he not won in Las Vegas, Appleby said he wouldn't have called it a great year.

"I had two seconds the two weeks previous," Appleby said. "I think hypothetically if I had a second in Vegas and Scott (Hoch) had have got me across the line, I mean, three seconds would have had me a bit peeved off to be that close. So to actually squeeze one out at the end of the year after those seconds was great."

Appleby also had a great finish at last year's Sony Open in Hawaii. While Ernie Els' playoff win over Aaron Baddeley grabbed the headlines, Appleby finished the tournament with a final-round 63 that left him alone in sixth, five strokes off the pace.

The 32-year-old moved up yesterday's leaderboard with six birdies on the back nine to hold a one-shot lead over fellow foreigner Darren Clarke. Appleby would like nothing better than a win here to begin a new journey in 2004.

"It took a while," Appleby said of putting his past behind him. "I can't really figure a period when I felt like there was a change because I don't think anything is like that. It's like a journey across the ocean. When do you think you got to the other side? It's actually right when you hit it.

"When I hit it with Ashley, it's when I felt like I could commit ourselves 100 percent to each other. That's when that process really started. I felt like that was the corner I was going to head down. I think a lot of years previous to that were very, very difficult. What most people, I guess, at one particular time, go through a degree of that, except mine I guess becomes a little bit more public, you know, since day one. But I couldn't be happier with where I feel like my life is than where I am now."




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