Date: March 24, 2008
Author: Brandon Cohen

Appleby in peak condition for Masters

Stuart Appleby heads into this year&aposs US Masters safe in the knowledge he is &aposso much closer&apos to winning at Augusta than ever before. Five top 10 finishes from six events to start 2008 have the 36-year-old in peak physical and mental condition and on course for an elusive major title. The Australian world No.26 led the field after 54 holes last year before two double-bogeys in the final round dropped him into a tie for seventh – just his second top 10 finish in 11 previous attempts at Augusta. The rest of the year was not so kind either. His best result was a share of third place at the AT&T National but he missed the cut in six other tournaments and was even disqualified from the Wachovia Championship for signing an incorrect scorecard. A lesser character would have walked away wondering where it all went wrong but Appleby credits a stronger, &aposmore relaxed&apos mental approach to the game as a key plank in his revival. “I&aposve got off to a flying start. To get off to the start that I&aposd had over those five weeks was great. I&aposd done everything pretty well and was playing at the right end of the field for five weeks straight, something that I&aposd never really done before,” he said on Tuesday from his home in Florida. Appleby will be hoping he can carry his early 2008 form into the Masters – to be held from April 10-13 – where he is looking to go a few steps better than last year. Despite the final-day collapse, he said he had &aposlearnt a lot&apos about how he would tackle the tough Augusta layout this year. “I really made a mental effort to go into the tournament not expecting too much, not getting worried or not getting caught up. I tried to take a step back,” he said. “Even with my mistakes on the Sunday I really felt I hung in there and clawed away. I wasn&apost going to change that mental plan I had throughout the week.” “I guess I tried to befriend Augusta a bit more than I had before. I just knew it was a tough golf course. I was swinging it well, doing a lot of it well. But emotionally I was a lot more relaxed and a bit more casual about the whole thing and not getting caught up. And that&aposs how I&aposve been playing this year so far.” “The question will be how much I learnt and what level I need to adjust my game physically and mentally. I think when you control your mind you really do control your swing and any degree of pressure you may be feeling.” “I&aposd like to think that the year after I had a chance to win Augusta I win it. What I learnt was that what I did last year was so much closer to what I need to do every tournament, let alone at Augusta.” After missing the cut at last week&aposs Arnold Palmer Invitational, Appleby is keen to tune up for the Masters in style at this week&aposs WGC-CA Championship in Miami followed by the Houston Open (where he&aposs won twice, in 1999 and 2006). “I feel it&aposs the right type of course for me,” he said of the Doral course. “It&aposs a pretty demanding course, pretty windy I&aposm very much looking forward to bouncing back after a short week last week and proving to myself I have the right bit of mojo going and I&aposm back on track.”