Appleby just 'trying to improve' in Pebble

Stuart Appleby during the first round of the PGA Tour's 2014 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – He stops short of calling it a comeback and it’s not like he’s “rebuilding” his career. More accurate to say that “I’m trying to improve upon the things I’ve done well in my career,” said Stuart Appleby.

And while it’s been a distinguished one – what with nine PGA Tour victories and nearly $28 million in career earnings – the 42-year-old Aussie thinks there’s more left. “I remember when I was young and how the game tasted. I (still) want to compete.”

He did that beautifully in Round 1 of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, a bogey-free 6-under 65 at Monterey Peninsula Country Club putting Appleby in the thick of things. It was the sort of round that warmed his spirits on a day when cold rain and whipping winds had sent him scurrying from the course first thing in the morning.

“It was just ugly,” Appleby said of the first two holes that he got in before the horn sounded to halt play. Casual water was settling on the greens at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill, which turned out to be a blessing, so far as Appleby was concerned. Playing at Monterey, which drains splendidly, he figures the drainage issues that took shape at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill are what spared him from playing through the dreadful weather.

But what really added to Appleby’s mood was the way he played once he resumed play three hours later. He birdied the par-5 12th, his third hole, then got into a rhythm. “I kept the round going in the right direction,” he said. “It was just good, solid golf.”

With a birdie at 16, then a front-side 3-under 31, the Aussie finished the day two off of Andrew Loupe’s clubhouse lead, a 63 at Monterey Peninusula, but 40 players will come back Friday morning to resume Round 1, including Phil Mickelson, who eagled the par-5 sixth, his 15th hole, to get to 5-under at Monterey Peninsula.

Yet his place in the standings is not what Appleby was focused on; instead, he was just thrilled that some positive energy was again channeled into a golf game that he doesn’t deny has sat stagnant for a few years.

“Emotionally,” he conceded, “I’ve taken a real hard hit.”

Since his most recent PGA Tour win – the Greenbrier Classic in 2010, when he shot a final-round 59 – Appleby has recorded just three top 10 finishes. His FedEx Cup standing has been 118th, 144th, and 95th the last three seasons.

Yet if you think that he’s discouraged, Appleby insists it’s quite the opposite. He loves the PGA Tour competition as much as ever and is committed to returning to the heights to which he’d been accustomed to all those years.

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