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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Appleby pulls win out of hat

Defending Champion Stuart Appleby, of Australia, hoists the winners trophy.
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Defending Champion Stuart Appleby, of Australia, hoists the winners trophy. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Doug Ferguson Associated Press

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Stuart Appleby became the first back-to-back winner in 22 years at the Mercedes Championships, closing with a 6-under 67 and letting Vijay Singh and Ernie Els make all the mistakes Sunday.

Appleby almost didn’t return to defend his title because of a nerve injury in his left thigh, but he made the trip worthwhile, and it will be even sweeter going home to Australia. His wife is expecting their first child this week.

He didn’t look like a winner until the back nine on a rainy, windy day at Kapalua.

Appleby opened with a 74, becoming the first winner in seven years at Kapalua to have a round over par. And he never birdied the par-4 18th all week, but that didn’t matter.

Els needed a birdie on the 18th to force a playoff, but his tee shot sailed far to the right, bounced high off the cart path and disappeared into trees and rough for a two-shot penalty.

Singh, trying to become the first wire-to-wire winner at Kapalua, was tied for the lead until he hooked his tee shot into the weeds on No. 13 and took triple bogey.

The last opportunity belonged to Jonathan Kaye, who was in front of the 18th green in two and needed to get up-and-down to catch Appleby. He hit his chip way too soft, and failed to make a 30-footer for birdie.

Appleby finished at 21-under 271 for a one-shot victory over Kaye. The 33-year-old Aussie won for the sixth time on tour, and earned $1.06 million and a Mercedes-Benz sports car.

Best of all, he can plan on another trip to paradise next year.

Lanny Wadkins in 1982-83 was the last player to win consecutive times at the winners-only Mercedes Championships. No one would have guessed Appleby could do it after a 74 that left him in second-to-last place after one day.

But after rounds of 64-66 left him four shots behind, he figured he was where he needed to be.

“I tripped out of the gates, I’m galloping along to catch up and now it’s a sprint to the finish,” Appleby said after his third round.

The sprint started early, when Appleby hit a driver on the 398-yard sixth hole, which played downwind and has a huge hill toward the green the final 100 yards. His tee shot trickled onto the green and stopped 12 feet away for an eagle that shot him up the leaderboard. He made only two birdies the rest of the way, but that was enough.

Els cost himself a victory twice – first with his putter, then with his driver. He wound up with a 71 and tied for third.

Singh made the kind of mistake with the driver – left – that he had worked so hard to eliminate from his otherwise flawless game. The 41-year-old Fijian shot a 74 and tied for fifth.

Stewart Cink (71) also squandered away a chance with two bogeys on the final three holes and finished three shots behind with Singh and Adam Scott (65).

Tiger Woods can say the same. He was never a factor, but his 68 left him tied for third, two strokes behind. And Woods will look back at a week of blown birdie putts, including from 5 feet and 10 feet on the final six holes.

“I probably had more opportunities within 15 feet than I’ve had in a long time,” Wood said. “I don’t feel like I got anything out of my rounds.”

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