Date: July 09, 2012

Grant Report – Struggles continue for past Greenbrier Champion

Two years after creating international headlines with a magical 59 in the final round to seal victory in the Greenbrier Classic, the Victorian has continued to struggle in recent times.

A nine-times winner on the US PGA Tour, Appleby can tick off a litany of issues which have afflicted him since that round and, even though his problems began before the Greenbriar, he is still optimistic he can turn his form around.

The 41-year-old has described his game in recent seasons as "a crumbling wreck."

"I wasn’t hitting it any good, and I wasn’t thinking any good, and I was just finding it really hard. All self-induced issues," he said.

"I had a back injury that was affecting my swing, not hurting me, and that seemed to make it hard to get on top all of last year. I’ve been missing cuts left and right. It’s been not a lot of fun, sort of strange."

A 59 is supposed to boost your game, not destroy it, but Appleby has only one top-10 finish in 45 tournaments in the US since, a tie for 10th in the 2011 Honda Classic.

He has slumped to No.301 in the World Golf Ranking – a far cry from the heady days of 2004, when he was No.8 and a serious contender week-in week-out. Remember all those season-opening tournaments he collected in Hawaii, along with a garage-full of high-end sports cars?

A few weeks ago Appleby gave some glimpses he might be emerging from the golfing wilderness when he shot three rounds in the 60s at the Travelers Championship before closing with a two-over-par 72 that left him in a tie for 18th.

That was only his second top-25 finish this year and lifted him 23 spots in the ranking.

"It’s nice to play well, nice to be thinking well and feel like there’s some zip in my game, all parts of my game," said Appleby, who won eight tournaments on the PGA Tour over 10 seasons, from the 1997 Honda to the 2006 Shell Houston Open.

"I really haven’t seen enough weekends for quite a while. I’ve been playing golf, just not the level I’m used to and, really, the player I should be."

When Appleby fired that memorable 59 he joined Al Geiberger (1977), Chip Beck (1991), David Duval (1999) – whose game seems now dead and buried – and Paul Goydos (earlier in 2009) as the only players to achive that mark in a PGA Tour event.

It gave him a one-stroke victory over Jeff Overton, who had begun the final day seven shots ahead of the Australian. Appleby said: "It was great to do that to win the tournament."

But it seems to have acted as a curse, even though his decline had begun the year before. In 2009 he missed the top 125 on the PGA Tour for the first time since his rookie year, 1996.

While he has missed most cuts this year, Appleby still sees hope ahead.

"My body and mind are a lot better, and if you get those two right, you play better golf," he said recently. "I went back to the putter I had with the 59, and I tried to keep the game as simple as it can be."

He actually made two cuts in late June but at the weekend slipped back to miss the final weekend group on his return to the Greenbriar. It’s odd to hear Appleby enthuse about simply playing on a Saturday.

"I’m playing well. I haven’t played well for a long time. I don’t want to sound like I’m taking pennies or begging, but I’ve (barely) missed so many cuts," he said. "So it’s nice to play on the weekend. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the first tee on a Saturday."

Perhaps the a 59 is a a jinx, as some claim. Geiberger won only once more on the PGA Tour after his 59 in the final round of the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic, and the 47-year-old Goydos has not won since his 59 in the first round of the John Deere Classic.

Beck claimed only one more PGA Tour victory after shooting 59 in the third round of the 1991 Las Vegas Classic and disappeared.

Duval’s case is clearly the most perplexing though. The po-faced American captured the 1999 Bob Hope Classic with his final-round 59 and went on to win the Players Championship and unseat Tiger Woods as No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking later that year before winning the 2001 British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Since then he has become the forgotten man. Appleby is fighting to avoid a similar fate.