Friday, September 16, 2005
Appleby takes one-stroke lead
FARMINGTON, Pa. -- Some golf courses reward skilled putters, others favor those with great short games. Any golf course that prominently features a statue of John Daly is obviously meant for big hitters.
Stuart Appleby, looking for his first victory since January, unleashed big drive after big drive during his sixth consecutive round in the 60s at the 84 Lumber Classic to open a one-shot lead Friday over an equally long hitter, Chris Smith, and a very accurate Cameron Beckman.
Appleby's 6-under 66 on the long but not especially trouble-filled 7,416-yard Mystic Rock course put him at 11-under 133. Beckman's 65 and Smith's 66 put them at 134, or two shots better than Craig Barlow, Joey Sindelar and Carl Pettersson.
With the wind behind them on most tees and wide fairways to grab every long drive that wasn't badly hit, Appleby and Smith applied Daly's theory of golf: Grip it and rip it.
Rip it, they did.
"There's tons of room out there," Smith said. "You've got to hit it hard out there. ... I went out and I was swinging -- there are some holes on the course that I tried to hit my driver harder than I hit it all year."
Smith, 161st on the money list and playing for a high finish that would allow him to keep his PGA Tour card for next year, decided he had nothing to lose by using his driver as if he were in a long hitter's contest. His 367-yard drive on the 598-yard No. 5 allowed him to hit a 1-iron on his second shot, and he hit to two feet before dropping an eagle putt. He birdied the 545-yard 8th after an even longer drive, taking advantage of a downslope beyond a bunker to drive it 387 yards, leaving him a 136-yard sand wedge on his approach.
Appleby has averaged 320.5 yards with his driver through two rounds, but Smith was even longer Friday with a 341-yard average.
"The fairways are fairly generous here," Appleby said. "Enough players are finding enough pin locations."
Appleby, who tied for second last year, had what appeared to be a relatively easy three-footer for par and a two-shot lead on No. 18. But he missed it badly, leaving him a bogey putt nearly as long, and he settled for a one-shot edge.
"I thought I hit it online, but I think I definitely pulled it," he said.
Appleby is among eight golfers using the 84 Lumber to sharpen their games for next week's Presidents Cup, but only Justin Leonard -- three shots back -- is relatively close to the lead. Defending champion Vijay Singh and Stewart Cink are seven behind, and Jim Furyk and Fred Couples missed the cut. So did Daly, the unofficial tournament host, a year after he finished in a 13th-place tie.
Daly is sponsored by 84 Lumber, and the lumberyard's billionaire founder, Joe Hardy, is so close to Daly the golfer calls him Dad. Daly also appears in nearly every print and TV ad for the event, which started as the Pennsylvania Classic in 2000 before being renamed following its move to the Pittsburgh area in 2003.
Phil Mickelson, 11 off the lead at even-par 144, flirted with missing the cut for the first time all year but just made it.
With more recognizable names near the bottom of the leaderboard than the top, Smith and Beckman are among those looking to the 84 Lumber as a route to keeping their cards. Beckman, 181st on the money list, kept his card two years ago with a fifth-place tie at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort event, and he also tied for 13th last year.
"This is not the first time I've been in this situation," Beckman said. "I've played good enough to keep my card, so it's kind of nice to be back in position again. I've been progressively playing better, and hopefully I'll play good this weekend."
Jason Gore, among a group of six who are four back, had the shot of the day. His tee shot on the par-3 No. 12 found the water that surrounds the green, but his next shot found the cup with one well-timed bounce for a hole-in-one that wasn't. ... Shaun Micheel, one of the four opening round co-leaders, is six back following a second-round 74. Both of his Thursday playing partners withdrew; David Toms after a rapid heartbeat caused him to be rushed to a hospital and Jerry Kelly with dehydration. ... Toms returned to the course following a night in a Pittsburgh hospital. He still plans to play in the Presidents Cup. ... Chris DiMarco, the 2000 winner and another Presidents Cup participant, is seven off the lead. ... Smith's 387-yard drive wasn't the longest of the day. Gore and Brett Wetterich each had 396-yard drives. .... Leonard had the day's low round, a 64. ... Mark Brooks withdrew with a back injury, the sixth to drop out in two days.