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2005 Mercedes Championships
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2004 Mercedes Championships

Mercedes not a good guide to rest of season

The PGA Tour's season-opening Mercedes Championship is not necessarily a good guide to the rest of the season.

It is played at the Kapalua Plantation course, a quirky layout built on the side of a mountain on the island of Maui. The 18th hole looks more like a ski run than a golf hole - minus the snow, of course - and the greens are the slowest and most grainy the players encounter all year.

As winner Stuart Appleby said, you need to be a Himalayan mountain goat to walk 18 holes.

Only once in the previous six stagings of the event at Kapalua has the champion also won a major in the same year. That was Tiger Woods in 2000, the year he also won three majors.

The other winners here were David Duval (1999), Jim Furyk (2001), Sergio Garcia (2002), Ernie Els (2003) and Appleby (2004, 2005).

If there's a common thread here, it's that Woods, Duval, Furyk and Els are all major winners, but only Woods has pulled off the Kapalua-major double.

Appleby has the game and the temperament to win a major but will have to buck the trend to do so this year.

He has improved to 11th in the world rankings with his win, and many who have followed his steady progression believe there is no reason why he can't soon be ranked among the very best.

"There's probably just one small little thing somewhere, in one part of his game, that is the difference from Stuey being where he is now and being a top-five player in the world," said Adam Scott, who also is striving to improve his already healthy world ranking No. 12.

"It might be confidence. It might be mental. These top guys get on a run where they feel they're never going to play bad. Maybe this week will kick Stuey off for the year, and he plays great and lives up to where he really should be."

Scott feels that physically, Appleby has what it takes to be one of the best.

"He's got such a solid swing," he said. "Everything's fundamentally correct and he always looks in control. That swing is going to last."

Appleby, 33, has won six times on the PGA Tour along with an Australian Open, but his major record is mediocre. He backed into a four-way playoff at the 2002 British Open and tied for fourth at the 2000 PGA Championship but has done nothing of note otherwise. Only time will tell whether 2005 will be any different.

Appleby's wife, Ashley, is due to give birth Wednesday to their first child. Even though Ashley is an all-American girl from Canton, Ohio, she will have the baby in Melbourne, Australia, Appleby's homeland.

No, it's not because they had trouble with their HMO, although that would be a reasonable guess. Rather, it's for logistical reasons.

Appleby wanted to support Australian golf by playing a couple of tournaments there late last year and didn't want to leave Ashley alone in Orlando, Florida, where they live.

By the time he was finished playing in mid-December, it was too late for Ashley to fly in a plane, so they decided to have the baby Down Under.

"The cut-off for flying was mid-November," Appleby said. "Ashley loves Australia and she did not have a problem having the baby in Australia; it was her decision. She just wanted to get the right doctor and the right place."

He caught a late Sunday night flight from Honolulu to Australia and was scheduled to get back at Ashley's side Tuesday morning, after losing a day crossing the international date line.

 

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