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A long Open journey for Stuart Appleby

The Open 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 freak accident.

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 was over.

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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