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Familiar Start for Pine-Appleby

Stuart Appleby is now The Kapalua Kid; The Maui Marauder; The Island Assassin.
When he gets to the Mercedes Championships, he wins. Sunday he did it for the third time in a row, a feat that hasnt happened in this event since Gene The Machine Littler three-peated way back in the 50s.
Appleby already is the early-line favorite to capture this thing again next year no matter who does or does not show up. And the focus, 51 weeks from now, will be on whether he can become the first player since Tiger Woods at Bay Hill (2000-2003) to win the same tournament four consecutive times.
Think Tiger might want to show up at Kapalua in next January and have something to say about that after skipping this years Mercedes? I asked Mark Steinberg last week and he said the answer is between him, Woods and Mercedes tournament chairman Gary Planos.
Steinberg, Woods agent, is almost as good at what he does as what he Woods does. Or, for that matter, as good as the outgoing Planos is at what he does. Part of Steinbergs job is to be tight-lipped with the media. Hes a friendly enough sort---unless its your job to try and find out information about Woods before Tiger is ready to publicly share it.
Anyway, my favorite new nickname for Appleby comes from the golden tongue of Golf Channel colleague Mark Rolfing.
Pine-Appleby, Rolf said, summing up the blonde Aussies Maui dominance in one, appropriate, hyphenated noun.
Applebys challenge going forward will be to maintain his Maui form for the rest of the season. He has failed in that effort each of the last two years.
No European has won a major in this century. But the talented Aussies have underachieved as well on this score. Appleby forged his way into a playoff at the Open Championship in 2002 in Scotland. But he couldnt close the deal. Ernie Els was the last man standing at Muirfield that year.
Meanwhile, the challenge facing Vijay Singh, the man Appleby edged in Sundays one-hole playoff, is more daunting. Singh turns 43 soon. He is immensely-talented, dedicated and determined to unseat Woods who unseated him last year at the top of the world rankings. His time in this quest grows increasingly finite. Woods turned 30 less than two weeks ago.
Vijay will almost always win when he putts well. He wont win when he doesnt. Tiger has won on poor putting weeks and he has won on poor driving weeks.
Ernie Els gets back into this mix, in America, at the Nissan Open, in mid-February. Exactly what Phil will do next is anybodys guess.
So 2006 should be interesting. And as always (read Jason Gore and Sean OHair in 2005) there will be surprises.
But what happened at Kapalua last week was no surprise at all.
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