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MERCEDES GOLF CHAMPIONSHIPS Appleby takes two-stroke lead

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Stuart Appleby has made 25 birdies against only five bogeys over three rounds.
KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) -- Stuart Appleby needed only two holes to regain the lead Saturday in the Mercedes Championships, and it only got better from there.
Appleby made all the crucial putts, from a 55-foot birdie on No. 7 to a 10-foot par on No. 17, finishing with a 7-under 66 to build a two-shot lead over Vijay Singh and leave everyone else -- Tiger Woods, included -- hoping that Appleby gives them a chance.
At this point, it doesn't look likely.
Weathering the conditions
Appleby, who was at 20-under 199, has made 25 birdies against only five bogeys over three rounds in the tough Kona wind blowing off the Maui coastline.
Singh had severe putting challenges, missing several chances from the 10-foot range.
One of the few he converted came on the 18th hole from 4 feet, a birdie that gave him a 4-under 69 and left him within range of winning the first event of the season.
"I'm playing well," Singh said. "I just need that putter to get hot like it did yesterday."
Retief Goosen had only 24 putts and matched the best score of the week with a 9-under 64, leaving him five shots out of the lead.
Darren Clarke holed out from the 17th fairway with an 8-iron for eagle, then narrowly missed an eagle putt on the final hole. He shot a 69 and was another stroke back at 14-under 205.
Tiger's tale
Woods, who missed the Mercedes Championships last year while recovering from knee surgery, finally avoided the big mistakes -- despite two three-putts -- in a round of 65 that put him seven shots behind Appleby.
"I need to shoot 62 or 63 and have a little help," Woods said.
Good luck.
If there was a moment that captured the third round, it came on the 17th hole.
Appleby left himself a 10-footer for par, while Singh was only 5 feet away for birdie. It looked like it would be a two-shot swing that would create a tie, but Appleby drained another -- and Singh wasted another opportunity.
Both made par.
"Everyone says they're tricky, and I guess they are," Appleby said of the greens on the Plantation course at Kapalua. "But if you can just roll a couple of them in, you can get on a roll."
That's what happened to Singh on Friday, when he closed with seven straight birdies.
The big Fijian was primed for another big day when he hit his approach 12 feet below the cup on the difficult first hole. But the Aussie rolled in his 15-footer for birdie, and Singh missed.
Singh three-putted the next for bogey, and simply couldn't get a putt to drop. He said earlier in the week that while he's not a bad putter, he's not a great putter, either.
Missed opportunity
Perhaps the most demoralizing moment came on the par-3 11th, when Singh had a 15-foot birdie putt to tie Appleby for the lead at 17-under. Singh ran it 4 feet by the hole, then missed it coming back to take bogey.
Even so, Singh is still very much in the game.
It looked as though a few others might have a solid chance today -- Goosen and Woods, to name two -- until Appleby played the par-5s on the back nine perfectly.
He hit his drive down the left side of the 15th fairway, and brought his 3-wood in from right-to-left, the ball stopping 6 feet short of the cup.
He settled for a birdie -- as did Singh, who also had an eagle putt -- but kept his cushion.
Appleby hit another good drive on the 18th, setting up a two-putt birdie from just off the green.
The crowd that followed Woods was hopeful of seeing a great round got their wish.
Only it was Goosen who delivered.
Goosen, who plays like he just woke up from a nap, calmly made just about every putt he had on the front. He took 11 putts, and made six birdies during a seven-hole stretch.
Woods had his moments, although it didn't look like that would be the case.
He missed the expansive first fairway for the third straight day, coming within inches of losing it in the weeds. He powered through the grass, went over the gorge and stopped 12 feet above the hole for a par.
Woods made his share of 15-foot putts, but it still wasn't enough. He started the third round nine shots out of the lead, and made up only two shots.
He has never won when trailing by more than five shots going into the final round.