KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Stuart Appleby became the first back-to-back winner in 22 years at the Mercedes Championships, closing with a 6-under 67 and
letting Vijay Singh and Ernie Els make all the mistakes
Appleby almost didn't return to defend his title because of a nerve injury in his left thigh, but he made the trip worthwhile, and it will be even
sweeter going home to Australia. His wife is expecting their first child this week.
He didn't look like a winner until the back nine on a rainy, windy day at Kapalua.
Appleby opened with a 74, becoming the first winner in seven years at Kapalua to have a round over par. And he never birdied the par-5 18th all week,
but that didn't matter.
Els needed a birdie on the 18th to force a playoff, but his tee shot sailed far to the right, bounced high off the cart path and disappeared into
trees and rough for a two-shot penalty.
Singh, trying to become the first wire-to-wire winner at Kapalua, was tied for the lead until he hooked his tee shot into the weeds on No. 13 and took
The last opportunity belonged to Jonathan Kaye, who was in front of the 18th green in two and needed to get up-and-down to catch Appleby. He hit his
chip way too soft, and failed to make a 30-footer for birdie.
Appleby finished at 21-under 271 for a one-shot victory over Kaye. The 33-year-old Aussie won for the sixth time on tour, and earned $1.06 million and
a Mercedes-Benz sports car.
Best of all, he can plan on another trip to paradise next year for the winners-only tournament that starts the PGA Tour season.
Lanny Wadkins in 1982-83 was the last player to win consecutive times at the winners-only Mercedes Championships. No one would have guessed Appleby
could do it after a 74 that left him in second-to-last place after one day.
But after rounds of 64-66 left him four shots behind, he figured he was where he needed to be.
"I tripped out of the gates, I'm galloping along to catch up and now it's a sprint to the finish," Appleby said after his third round.
The sprint started early, when Appleby hit a driver on the 398-yard sixth hole, which played downwind and has a huge hill toward the green the final
100 yards. His tee shot trickled onto the green and stopped 12 feet away for an eagle that shot him up the leaderboard. He made only two birdies the
rest of the way, but that was enough.
Els cost himself a victory twice -- first with his putter, then with his driver. He wound up with a 71 and tied for third.
Singh made the kind of mistake with the driver -- left -- that he had worked so hard to eliminate from his otherwise flawless game. The 41-year-old
Fijian closed with a 74 and tied for fifth.
Stewart Cink (71) also squandered away a chance with two bogeys on the final three holes and finished three shots behind with Singh and Adam Scott
Tiger Woods can say the same. He was never a serious factor, but his 68 left him tied for third, two strokes behind. And Woods will look back at a
week of blown birdie putts, including from fuve feet and 10 feet on the final six holes.
"I probably had more opportunities within 15 feet than I've in a long time," Wood said. "I don't feel like I got anything out of my rounds."
Still, no one was kicking himself like Kaye.
He chipped in for eagle on the ninth hole to get a share of the lead, had it to himself with a birdie on the 10th and was very much in position to
force a playoff on the 18th. But he couldn't figure out how to play a 50-yard chip from the front of the green -- bump it back to the flag, fly it all
the way there, or chip it halfway.
He went with option No. 3, and it landed soft without much roll.
"I should have gone with my first instinct," Kaye said. "I knew what I had to do. I just didn't hit the shot at the right time. If I could do it over
again, I'd fly it all the way to the hole. The worse you get is an 8- to 10-footer."
Starting times were moved up because of rain in the forecast, but it came early and hard -- two inches in the darkness of morning -- and delayed the
final round some five hours.
Worse yet was the Kona wind out of the opposite direction, when the Plantation Course is at its toughest.
Singh finally made his first bogey of the year at No. 4 that contained a few oddities.
He became the first player to turn down a cart ride up the 100-foot slope to the fairway. As he stood over his 50-foot putt, he noticed Kaye behind
him and off to the side. Singh backed off and waved his putter at Kaye to get him to move, then he blew his putt 10 feet by the hole and missed it
Singh answered with a terrific pitch to a difficult pin placement on No. 5, the ball skidding to a stop just three feet behind the hole for a birdie
to regain the lead, but it was clear at that point the tournament was up for grabs.
Els looked like the man to beat with three good birdie putts on four holes, but then he carelessly let it get away from him by three-putting the
seventh and missed birdie chances inside 15 feet on the next four holes.
He recovered with birdies on the 15th and 16th, and looked to be a cinch to make birdie on No. 18.
But a wild week along the rugged coast of Maui held plenty of surprises -- bad shots by the best players, and a trophy for the defending champion who
nearly didn't show up.