2006: Pappas remedies woes with title

Raleigh, N.C.

Brenden Pappas has had to change his focus lately.

The 36-year-old has had a life-changing year and a Nationwide Tour season that has been hit-or-miss from the get-go.

Pappas started the season with a tie for second in the Movistar Panama Championship and made a run at the leaders last month in the Rheem Classic in Fort Smith, Ark., before tying for 10th. His other five events resulted in a withdrawal, a trio of missed cuts and a 63rd-place finish.

It probably wasn’t quite the way the 13-year pro had hoped to start his 2006 season.

But Pappas can’t be blamed if golf isn’t his first priority.

Last year, he and his wife welcomed twin sons, a joy that was offset by the death of his father two months ago. Pappas acknowledges that these changes have affected his outlook on golf and life.

It all came together for Pappas at the Rex Hospital Open June 4, as he captured his first victory of 2006 with a final-round 70 and a 16-under 268 total.

“I have a different approach this week in that I’m not worrying about the leaderboard or my position,” he said. “Even the hits are at 40 percent of my potential. I wasn’t close to playing well even when I finished well. Those were just a matter of making a few key putts for pars to hold my position.”

Late in the third round, Pappas put his new mindset to the test, laying up from 236 yards out on the par-5 18th rather than going for the green in two.

“I looked at the leaderboard there for the first time and saw that I had only a two-shot lead,” he said. “If I had a six-shot lead, I might have gone for it. Discretion was the better part of valor there. I laid up and made my par. I’ll leave the battle for tomorrow when I feel stronger.”

Pappas’ plan paid off Sunday, as he made birdies on the final two holes, including a 25-footer on the last, to cap off his one-shot victory over Charlie Wi.

But Pappas’ victory wasn’t assured until Wi missed a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 18 after getting a huge break on his third shot. Wi's shot sailed into the creek that cuts across the front of the green, hit a rock, bounced to the back of the green, caught the slope and rolled within 20 feet.

It also affected Pappas, who instead of being assured almost certain victory, now had to make a putt for the win.

“Getting over what happened to Charlie was tough. . . . It took me a while to get my breathing under control and my adrenaline under control after that,” Pappas said.

That new focus only could have helped.

Stuck on you: Matt Kuchar and Paul Claxton each fired 65s to share the first-round lead when Thursday’s play concluded. The two friends can’t seem to get away from each other on Nationwide leaderboards recently.

Just two weeks ago, Kuchar and Claxton were paired together for the first three rounds at the Henrico County Open, only to meet in a playoff that Kuchar won.

In addition, both players have had a resurgence in 2006, with Kuchar winning the Henrico for his first victory since the 2002 Honda Classic on the PGA Tour, and Claxton finding his putting touch.

“Confidence is a funny thing,” Kuchar said. “Richmond gave me a bounce to my step again, which I haven’t had. It’s so easy to get beaten up in golf. You just don’t win that often. Tiger Woods may be the only guy who wins with any regularity. Once you get a few things going, you get that confidence where you feel like you’re going to shoot a good number.”

Claxton says his boost in confidence has resulted from changing what’s in his bag.

“I’m still switching putters, finding whatever works for me that day,” he said. “I’m not in love with any of them right now, but I rolled it pretty good today.”

The duo parted ways after Round 1, however, as neither could remain atop the leaderboard. Claxton shot 70-71-72 the rest of the way (T-29) and Kuchar finished 73-73-71 (T-52).

Short shots: The second round finished Saturday at 12:30 p.m., as Friday storms canceled play with half the field yet to finish. . . . Garrett Willis and Tom Johnson withdrew prior to the first round and were replaced by Jose Coceres and Mike Standly. . . . Ten players were bogey-free in Round 1, compared with only two in the third round. . . . The first-round scoring average was 70.910, the lowest at TPC Wakefield since the final round three years ago. . . . Ken Guilford was disqualified after the first round for signing an incorrect scorecard.

– Staff and wire reports

On the tee

Next up: Knoxville Open, June 15-18, Fox Den Country Club, Knoxville, Tenn. Defending champion: Kim Felton.

The buzz: Felton comes in looking for a lift, as the Aussie has only one top-30 finish in eight 2006 starts.

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