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Stuart Appleby a deserving winner again

It is difficult to think of a more deserving and popular winner at the weekend than Stuart Appleby, who completed a successful title defence of the Mercedes Championships in Hawaii.

The personable Australian has suffered more than his share of adversity since he turned professional in 1992, and almost had to pull out on the eve of the PGA Tour's season-opening event with a hip injury.

Appleby, who held off a furious late charge by Vijay Singh to win last year's title at Kapalua by a shot, was unable to hit a golf ball two weeks ago because of a sciatic nerve problem in his left leg.

However, he regained flexibility after a programme of stretching exercises and was able to tee off in Thursday's opening round at the Plantation Course.

Although he was one of just four players in the elite winners-only field of 31 to finish above par on day one, he never looked back after that.

The 33-year-old vaulted into contention with a sparkling nine-under-par 64 in the second round and went on to clinch the sixth PGA Tour title of his career with closing scores of 66 and 67.

However, an added distraction all week for the former Australian Rules Football player was the impending arrival of his first child.

His wife Ashley is scheduled to give birth in Melbourne on Wednesday, and Appleby was quite prepared to withdraw from the event if a premature delivery had been on the cards.

"I would have left in a heartbeat if it was serious," he told reporters at Kapalua. "But (the baby) had not showed any signs of coming in quickly.

"There were three reasons I came here," he added. "One, the baby did not look like it was to come early.

"Two, physically it looked like I could get better with some treatment over here, and three, I was playing good. Ashley said: 'Look, go over there, have some fun, wish I was there'."

Very few people, if any, would begrudge Appleby his rousing start to 2005 -- both professionally and domestically.

Just under seven years ago, his first wife Renay was killed in a traffic accident outside a London train station. Appleby had missed the cut in the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale and the couple were preparing to go away on holiday.

Hardly surprisingly, his life was totally transformed by Renay's untimely passing. Almost two years later, he was still struggling to come to terms with it.

"At it's worst, it's really, really tough," he said during a teleconference on the PGA Tour. "Somehow you manage, whether that's an inner strength or something else, I don't know. Other times you don't.

"Sometimes you say flat out: 'Listen, I can't do this. It's just too much for me right now', and you just don't. You take weeks off.

"It's at your own speed. There's no time frame except what is comfortable."

Time passed, though, and the likeable Australian found some solace on the golf course.

He won the 2001 Australian Open and produced his best finish at a major the following year when he tied for second in the British Open at Muirfield, after Ernie Els had won the title in a four-way playoff.

In 2003, Appleby clinched the Las Vegas Invitational before ending the PGA Tour season 12th in the money list with earnings of $2,662,538.

Most significantly, though, he also found personal happiness and the highlight of that year was his marriage to Ashley.

Two years on, he is poised to become a father for the first time.

"What I'm about to go through this week -- having my first child -- my life is certainly going to be put in a different light," said Appleby.

"I'm very much looking forward to this year. I think there's certain principles about that that I've taken in my life, knowing that I've always had the mentality that it's one shot at a time, one shot at a time."

Having taken one shot at a time, the richly deserving Appleby could hardly have hoped for a better start to 2005.


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