Sun, Jan 08, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Kapalua challenges top pro golfers

AP , KAPALUA, HAWAII

The scenery suggests paradise. The golf was all work on Friday in the Mercedes Championships, where defending champion Stuart Appleby survived 56kph gusts for a 1-under 72 to take a one-shot lead into the weekend.

The trade wind was among the fiercest since this season-opening event moved to Kapalua in 1999, but the name atop the leaderboard should look familiar. Appleby is trying to become the first player in nearly 50 years to capture the winners-only tournament three straight times.

But it hasn't been easy.

He hit his tee shot into the knee-high weeds on the 18th hole and made a bogey, finishing his two rounds at 3-under 143. He won the last two years with scores of 21 and 22 under par.

"If anyone gets to double figures, that would be excellent golf," Appleby said.

David Toms missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that could have caught Appleby, settling for an even-par 73 to join US Open champion Michael Campbell (72), former US Open champion Jim Furyk (72) and three-time major champion Vijay Singh (74) at 2-under 144.

That kind of pedigree shows what type of golf is required.

"It's good practice for the [British] Open," Campbell said.

Sergio Garcia (74) and Olin Browne (76) were the only other players to survive par on a Plantation course that was tough on lightning-quick greens that moved to warp speed when the gusts were at a peak. It was a rude reminder that coming to Hawaii doesn't make this a working vacation.

The course average was 75.5, the toughest round in the eight-year history at Kapalua, and the wind is responsible for most of that. Appleby figured the wind alone made the course as many as five shots harder.

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