long Open journey for Stuart Appleby
Championship will always mean so much more for Australia's Stuart Appleby
than simply the claret jug and the £700,000 winner's cheque. In 1998, a
day after that year's Open at Royal Birkdale, his wife, Renay, was killed in a
The young couple were about to board a Eurostar train to
Paris where they were to spend a romantic break after Appleby had missed the cut
at the Lancashire Links. A taxi reversed over Renay and she later died in hospital.
After such a tragedy it was to Appleby's credit that he managed to keep
his career on track. Reaching the four-man play-off Sunday, his finest placing
in a major, showed just how much the professional from Cohuna has progressed.
A bogey at the final play-off hole, the 18th, was a miserable end to what had
been an incredible day. A 65, which saw him play the back nine in a tournament
best five-under-par 30 had inched him so close to his first major. Appleby was
just happy to be in the play-off.
"I was feeling nervous from the
very first hole, nervous all day, but I guess good nerves, more a stimulus than
anything else, sharpening your focus. I made putts today. I hadn't made any all
week, so it was nice," he said.
Appleby knew that caution was not
to be the order of his day.
"I was a few laps behind and I had to
put the foot to the floor and go, I didn't have time to look behind me and see
what was going on," he said.
The high-risk strategy he adopted paid
off for him.
"I knew the leaders had birdie chances ahead of them
and that I needed to really keep going. There was no inclination for me to look
at the leaderboard. I knew I was playing well, but I really had no idea what position
I was in in the tournament. I was thinking Stuart Appleby is playing nice, He's
hitting the ball well, he's putting alright. What do I need to do. I was not in
a position to assess where I was going, I just had to keep charging ahead."
He charged his way into the play-off and it was only when he failed to
get up and down from a bunker at the 18th, the final play-off hole, that his tournament
His fellow Australian Steve Elkington had seen his chances in
the play-off come to a similar fate as his own when he, too, took a bogey five
at the 18th. Elkington, the US PGA champion of 1995, when he beat Colin Montgomerie
in a play-off, had started the day a 66-1 chance but with a five-birdie 66 made
a mockery of those odds.
The 39-year-old from Inverell was only playing
in the Open due to an injury to the American, Paul Azinger. Elkington had double-bogeyed
the 18th at Dunbar on Monday during qualifying and it seemed as if he was to miss
his first Open in 13 years. Then Azinger withdrew with a minor back injury and
Elkington was back in.
It was a chance that he was to grab with both hands.
A first round of 71, followed by a second round of 73, had put Elkington right
on the cut mark at 2-over par after the first two rounds. He was one of the lucky
few to miss the worst of Saturday's weather and took full advantage with a 68.
He was still five shots off the lead but then Sunday's bogey-less round to finish
took him right to the top of the leaderboard. It was destined to be a challenge
that only just failed.
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