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A Hot Start Now About the Finish

For the third straight year, Stuart Appleby wins the Mercedes Championship. For the third straight year, he wins the seasons first tournament, an elite event for winners only. And for the third straight year, people are asking whether this might mean a breakout season for him.
It didnt mean much in 2004 and 2005. In 04, he went on to miss the cut at the Sony Open and finish T40 at the Bob Hope in his next two tournaments, and though he played well in spurts, he couldnt duplicate winning.
Last year, he had a child born the week after the Mercedes and didnt play again until LA six weeks later. And, once again, he couldnt duplicate the victory at Kapulua. He finished T58 at the Nissan in a tournament that lasted only two rounds. In his next outing (the Accenture), he needed 19 holes in his opening match to knock off Joakim Haeggman before losing the second to Ian Poulter. After that, he wouldnt finish in the top 20 until the Booz Allen in June.
To be fair, lets concede that Appleby suffered most of the first half of the season with a nerve problem in his hip. But I managed - when I got over the ball, I could swing it all right, Appleby conceded. I was really surprised because my comfort level was not very good, but when I got to hit a shot, I actually felt all right.
This year, though ' no problem. I'm in better shape than last year, he said flatly.
So what has happened to Appleby the last couple of years to submarine the excellent starts? Well, last year he could point to the child and the injury, though really he didnt do a whole lot the entire year. In 2004, he played pretty consistently, though he never could close the deal.
Surprisingly, Appleby has mostly putted his way to the Mercedes wins. This, despite the fact that he was way down at No. 165 in the putting rankings last year.
It's pretty hard to miss a fairway, pretty hard to miss a green, said the man who averaged 300 yards a drive in 2005, 19th on the rankings. Don't have to chip much, all have you to do is putt. I putted well.
There was no question that his golf game was AWOL after the Mercedes last year. I certainly didn't hit it as good - didn't swing it as good, I should say - and I didn't have any weeks where I putted as good as that, offered Appleby. I think that showed. That (putting) probably cost me 10 to 15 spots on the list right there, minimum. Whereas '04 was a year that was a bit more stable. I finished ranked 12th.
Appleby lives now in Florida, but he in a native Australian and he traditionally spends Decembers playing tournaments in Australia in the short golf season Down Under. Jim Furyk noted that fact, hoping that that is the reason he has dominated the Mercedes the past three years.
He either gets it back very, very quickly or he's been working pretty good in the off-season, one of the two, Furyk said.

Maybe he's been playing a little bit at home. A lot of us live in good weather. It doesn't mean we're always out there practicing. A lot of guys, you want to spend Christmas and kind of be with your family during the holidays.
This year, of course, the tournament missed four men who would have been favorites for the championship ' Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and Retief Goosen. But Tiger and Goosen, at least, were in attendance the other two years. So Applebys Mercedes wins were against the top competition. And this year he won a playoff over Vijay Singh, so there wasnt much of a dropoff of talent there.
What does he have to do to step it up to the worlds top 10? Its simple ' he has to putt much better. He was in the top 30 in putting routinely until 2004, when he finished 56th ' and thats not bad, mind you. But 165th ' now, thats bad.
This year, hes going to become a father again shortly. Fatherhood, naturally, didnt affect his putting last year. The hip ' possibly it did. But there should be no excuses this time around. This time, the 34-year-old has to make that extra leap. He has shown the past three years that he can be potentially as successful as anyone save Tiger ' at least at the first tournament of the year. Now he just has to learn how to do it the following 47 events.
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