Historic finish for Appleby
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Stuart Appleby forcefully reminded the world of golf Sunday that yes, he really was one of the world's better players.
Four years ago, he won nearly $3.5 million on the PGA Tour, won two tournaments and was knocking on the door of the world's top 20. This year, that ranking plummeted to the 159 mark, and he was playing an overloaded schedule in hope of regaining his touch.
He found it, and found victory at the inaugural edition of the Greenbrier Classic, breaking his four-year victory drought in a historic way. He fired a 59 on the final day, a comfortable day under overcast skies.
In a week in which several players flirted with the milestone on a generous Old White Course, Appleby turned in the 11-under par 59 to erase all of a seven-shot deficit to Jeff Overton, who led after the second and third rounds. The 39-year-old from Australia finished with a 22-under par 258, topping Overton by one.
Appleby shot a 6-under 28 on the front and a 5-under 31 on the back. He birdied Nos. 4 through 7 and 16, 17 and 18 in succession, and fired an eagle on the par-5 12th.
He joins four others to shoot 59: Al Geiberger (1977), Chip Beck (1991), David Duval (1999) and Paul Goydos (2010), all on par-72 or par-71 layouts. Goydos did it four weekends ago at the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill.
Only Duval did it in the final round, at the Bob Hope Classic - another haven for low scores.
Appleby hit a 10-foot, 10-inch putt on the 18th to secure his place in history, and then sweated out the end of Overton's round over on the practice range. After Appleby left the 18th, Overton missed a short putt for birdie on the 17th, and then narrowly missed a difficult birdie putt on 18.
Appleby, who was playing for the 11th straight weekend, pocketed the first prize of $1.08 million. He also landed in the Bridgestone Invitational next week in Akron, a World Golf Championships event, and clinched a spot in the PGA Championship field in two weeks.
He also climbed to 24th in the FedExCup standings and more than doubled his money winnings to climb to 24th on that list. He earned a tour exemption for 2011 and 2012 and qualified for the 2011 season-opening SBS Championship in Hawaii, an event he won from 2004-06.
"Well, it's really changed my season," he said. "It's given some real valid weight to the time you spend on the range frustrated, and it's been plenty of those. Every player that's on, you know, golf, but certainly on the tour, has that."
Virginia Tech graduate Brendon de Jonge finished third at 17-under, five strokes back. There was a five-way tie for fourth at 15-under that included D.A. Points, the man who electrified the gallery Saturday in a charge at 59 that fizzled with a bogey on 17.
There was no fizzle and all sizzle in Appleby's round, which featured a whopping 11 3s. And really, the course was playing tougher, with a single 63 and a 64 being the next-best rounds.
"Yeah, he putted unbelieavable," said Jimmy Walker, who played with Appleby and also finished at minus-15. "He made everything today. I mean, that's what you do. He hit some really great shots and made all his putts. There you go, 59."
Appleby only missed three greens in regulation. Thirteen of his approach shots came within 15 feet of the pin, six within 10 feet and one within a foot. He did roll in a 271/2-foot putt to begin his front-nine birdie streak.
There weren't so-called many lucky breaks, he felt.
"The only shot I would consider fortunate would have been the drive down the hole I eagled, 12," he said. "I mean, I haven't been playing unbelievably high-quality golf going back a month-plus ago, so that could have easily sped out of bounds."
With that tee shot safely in bounds on the right, he belted a 4-iron from 237 yards to about 12 feet, where he it the putt dead-center. That put him at 19-under, giving him his first tournament lead.
That was short-lived as Overton birdied the 10th and 11th, but Appleby was solid or better the rest of the way. He already suffered his one episode of adversity and overcame it nicely.
That came on the eighth, a 217-yard par-3 which played as the second-toughest on the course. Appleby yanked his tee shot 40 yards left, landing down a hill and leaving him with a tough recovery between two trees.
"That easily could have gone pear-shaped," he said. "Wasn't a very good tee shot; it was my worst shot of the day. Certainly don't have enough West Virginian fans, because they didn't give the 'Arnold Palmer' and bounce it back on the green for me.
"But that was, looking back, very critical to maintaining my composure and keeping the round alive."
That kept him alive to score a birdie on the ninth, and the eagle on the 12th got him, the crowd and the CBS crews thinking of a 59.
"I did the math at the turn and saw 6-under," he said. "I thought, 'Well, here I am, 6. What will I do now? Where's Jeff? I need to go another 6.'
"I was only halfway home. I know there were opportunities there to do that, but then that put me in the 50s. I thought, 'Well, that's pretty cool. Why don't we shoot for that, too, and see if the victory comes with it?'"
He hit a 15-footer to birdie the 16th and recovered nicely from a fairway bunker for a 10-foot birdie putt on the 17th. With a throng packing the 18th, he buried his birdie put with no doubts.
It was Appleby's ninth career PGA tour victory, breaking a 110-start drought. It was his 63rd top-10 finish and his 145th top-25 finish.
He had gone 358 rounds without breaking 65, also dating back to 2006. He started The Greenbrier Classic 66-68-65 and finished it in a historic flurry that left his competitors in awe.
"It was cool watching him do that," Walker said. "I've never played with anybody that shot that low. He made everything. It was really cool to watch.
"We were talking down the last hole and I told my caddie, 'No chance he misses it,'" Walker said. "He's in the zone today."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.