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PGA MERCEDES CHAMPIONSHIPS Appleby holds off late charge by Singh

Thursday, January 15, 2004

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) -- Some call it playing too conservatively. Stuart Appleby called it smart.
He had a five-shot lead with five holes to play Sunday in the season-opening Mercedes Championships. By all calculations, Vijay Singh would have had to make birdie on every hole to even have a chance, assuming Appleby didn't make any mistakes along the way.
"I wasn't going to give him anything for free," Appleby said.
Singh almost cashed in.
The big Fijian birdied four of the last five holes, missing a 100-foot eagle putt by inches on No. 18 that allowed Appleby to escape with a one-shot victory on the Plantation course at Kapalua.
Biggest pay check ever
Appleby closed with a 2-under 71 and was at 22-under 270. He earned $1.06 million, the largest check of his career, and won a Mercedes-Benz sports car.
The 32-year-old Aussie had gone four years without winning -- some felt that was too long for his ability. He has two victories and two runner-up finishes in his last six PGA Tour starts, and he won't have to wait another four years before he can return to Maui for the winners-only Mercedes Championships.
"What it does is solidify that what I'm doing on the golf course is working," Appleby said.
Darren Clarke had a 70 and finished five shots behind in his Mercedes Championships debut.
Woods tied for fourth
Tiger Woods closed with two straight birdies for a 71 and tied for fourth with Retief Goosen (73). Woods earned $275,000 to top $40 million for his career.
"That's not too bad," Woods said. "I love inflation."
Singh, meanwhile, showed he's serious about challenging Woods for No. 1 in the world.
Coming off his best season, the 40-year-old played like last year never ended. He closed with a 70 and can count on both hands the number of putts inside 12 feet he missed this week.
Still, it was his ninth consecutive finish in the top six.
"The putter took a lot away from me this week," Singh said.
Appleby might have won on the front nine, especially with birdies on the fourth and fifth holes (Singh made pars) and a 20-foot birdie putt on the seventh that extended his lead to six.
It stayed there through 11 holes, and a bogey by Appleby on No. 12 seemed harmless.
But when Singh rolled in a 12-footer from just off the green for birdie on No. 14, that got Appleby's attention.
"I knew that he would fight and struggle," Appleby said. "You're talking about a guy who has come out of a good part of '03, one guy who I have to show massive respect to. I just tried to play smart."
It got even tighter on the par-5 15th.
Singh keeps coming
Appleby decided to lay up 90 yards short of the green, while Singh blasted a 3-wood into the wind to the front of the green for a long look at eagle. Ultimately, Singh made his birdie from about the same distance that Appleby missed his, and the lead kept dwindling.
"I could only control what I was doing," Appleby said. "I saw him starting to make birdies. I thought, 'I'm playing pretty good; hardly made a bogey all week. No reason to start that rubbish now. I'll just keep doing what I'm doing, hitting it smart, just try to sneak a couple in.' "
He didn't make anything the rest of the way, but it didn't matter.
Singh helped, thanks to another Jekyll & amp; Hyde performance with his putter. He three-putted twice on the front nine and didn't make a birdie until the par-5 ninth.
"I'm not disappointed in finishing second," Singh said. "I'm just disappointed in not winning."