MERCEDES CHAMPIONSHIP GOLF
Stuart Appleby has given up distance for accuracy in a bid to join the Top 10.
Appleby comes back with a clue
The Aussie has given up distance for accuracy in a bid to join the Top 10
KAPALUA, Maui » Nobody asked two-time defending Mercedes champion Stuart Appleby if it would be OK to do a little yard work at the old Plantation Course.
The Australian wasn't consulted when the powers-that-be decided there was too much grain in the Bermuda, prompting a seven-month face lift that left the greens here as smooth as a high forehead after a Botox shot.
At Kapalua, Maui
When: Today through Sunday
Where: The Plantation Course, Kapalua Resort
Purse: $5.4 million
Defending champion: Stuart Appleby
TV: ESPN. Today through Saturday: 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sunday: 2 to 5 p.m.
You'd think the man who has won more money at the Mercedes Championships than anyone would at least get a courtesy call, but when it came time to plow the greens, Appleby was back in Australia helping his wife bring their first child into the world.
"The putting greens look great," said Appleby, who didn't get a chance to knock around the par-73 course until yesterday's pro-am. "They look like a better collection of grass to have on the course. I think it was a good change.
"The greens weren't great greens here. You know, I managed to read them fine and all that. But I know what they're trying to do, and it was the right thing to do."
By all accounts, the Plantation Course has never putted better entering today's first round of the 2006 PGA Tour season, leaving Appleby to wonder if the rub of the green will lead to a three-peat.
Like last year, his wife is pregnant,
but isn't due for another two months, providing less of a distraction. She delivered a day after he pocketed $1.06 million for winning his sixth tour title. He returned in time to complete the latter stages of the West Coast Swing, but never found his groove again.
In the remaining 24 events he entered, Appleby didn't come close to winning, managing only three top-10 finishes. He placed 23rd on the money list with $2.2 million, but nearly half of that was won here.
"When I won here in 2004, I had a better year after that than I did after winning here in 2005," Appleby said. "I hit it well and putted well here. It's almost a cliché, but that's going to get it done. I didn't do that the rest of the year."
What Appleby did do was start hitting the big drive more. As a youth, the 34-year-old was known for his booming shots off the tee. He could hit it as far as anyone, but lack of control erased all that distance.
So Appleby dialed it down a bit, trying to find the fairway more and the rough less. But halfway through the 2005 season, Appleby decided to cut loose once again and it showed. He finished 12th on tour in driving distance, averaging 300.6 yards. Appleby's accuracy dropped, however, hitting only 59.3 percent of the fairways, leaving him 155th on tour.
"I was a pretty long hitter when I was younger," Appleby said, then smiled. "I was pretty wild, too. I had to learn to control the ball. Last year, I decided to open up a bit more and I gained a good climb in distance.
Stuart Appleby, above, and Vijay Singh will be the last players to tee off in the Mercedes Championships today on Maui. They start at 1:20 p.m.
"My length has grown just due to some confidence in my swing and some trusting. This week, you can actually do that, but you also, at the same time, have to watch it because the wind is there. I think all long hitters have always fought with control. It's always a compromise."
With that in mind, Appleby believes becoming a top-10 player will require him to hit more greens in regulation and putt better once finding the dance floor. He is currently ranked 30th in the world.
Last year, Appleby finished 46th on tour in greens in regulation at 66.9 percent. But once there, his putter left him shaking his head more often than not. He averaged 1.802 putts per green, good enough for No. 165 on tour.
"Make more putts, that's really it," Appleby said when asked what would make him a top-10 player.
"I don't need to hit it any longer. It will be scoring better. Which way you skin it, I'm not really sure. There's no doubt when I play well in tournaments where I've had good performances, that my stats are better."
Unfortunately for Appleby, consistency eludes him. But if he's frustrated by not being a member of the top 10, he doesn't show it.
"I'm not frustrated by the fact I haven't done it yet because I know it will happen," Appleby said. "I know that's the next step for me, to be a top-10 player. I had a brief stint there, but my game wasn't consistent enough to sustain that level of play."
Vijay to defend Sony Open title
For a little while, it looked like next week's Sony Open might be without its defending champion.
But Vijay Singh, the world's No. 2-ranked golfer, told tournament officials earlier this week he'll be at the Waialae Country Club event, ready to play and try to add to the $1,149,086 he has won at the Sony Open.
"He's committed," Sony spokesman Bill Bachran said. "We heard from him a couple of days ago."
There was speculation that Singh, who is playing in the Mercedes Championships at Kapalua this week, might skip the Oahu stop because he is scheduled to play in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, Jan. 19-22 and the Qatar Masters, Jan. 26-29.
Other recent Sony commitments include 2003 Master's champion Mike Weir and 1989 British Open winner Mark Calcavecchia.