King of Kapalua seeks to retain throne

Stuart Appleby, the King of Kapalua, has a sense of humor that fits in nicely with the laid-back tropical atmosphere where his threepeat of Mercedes-Benz Championship victories makes him the envy of just about every PGA Tour player -- save for perhaps the two high-profile players who qualified for the season-opening event but are no shows in Hawaii.

Appleby has won the last three Mercedes and is running out of room at his Florida home for the cars that come with the trophy.

"I'd say my accidental selection of winning [this] event numerous times has been quite handy," he quipped. "I can take one more car, but I need a car lift or hoist. I built the garage based on that potential problem."

Yes, some problem for Appleby -- who also drives a Lamborghini.

One problem he won't face as the 2007 season kicks off is the prospect of having to defeat Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, again a story despite their not even being in the tournament.

Woods and Mickelson both elected to prolong their offseason and stay away from this winners-only event, once again leading to questions about their absence. Appleby has that figured out, too, at least in the case of Woods.

"I'd like to think I've got some intimidation factor and he wasn't interested in coming over," Appleby said. "He's going for his seventh victory in a row and he didn't want me to break his streak. I guess I have some psychic power over him."

Appleby certainly has something going for him at Kapalua, where last year he defeated Vijay Singh in a playoff, winning for the third straight time and setting up the best of his 11 seasons on the PGA Tour.

He added another victory at the Shell Houston Open -- the first time he won twice in a calendar year -- and finished eighth on the money list with more than $3.4 million. Appleby, one of five Australians in the Mercedes field, begins the 2007 season ranked 21st in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing two other Aussies: Adam Scott (fourth) and Geoff Ogilvy (10th).

Appleby, 35, has quite the story. He grew up on an Australian dairy farm and learned golf by hitting shots from paddock to paddock. He didn't have the formal training of many of today's stars but has managed to earn nearly $19 million so far.

He showed signs of stardom early in his career when he won the 1997 Honda Classic and the 1998 Kemper Open. But it was that summer when his life took a tragic turn. Having just played in the British Open, Appleby and his wife, Renay, were preparing for a vacation to Paris when a freak accident occurred at a London airport. Renay Appleby was crushed between two cars as she attempted to unload luggage. Just 25, she died of internal injuries.

Appleby admitted being in a daze, but somehow he managed an emotional victory the following year in Houston. He went four years before his next victory, losing in a playoff at the 2002 British Open, but has now won in four successive years.

And there is nothing like being back at Kapalua, where Appleby is going for four straight wins. Woods is the only player to win the same event four straight times (Bay Hill from 2000-03), so Appleby is trying to join Woods' company.

Appleby likes the area so much that he has decided to buy property in Hawaii.

"I just feel comfortable here and very relaxed," he said. "When I get on the first tee, I don't feel nervous like I do at a lot of tournaments. I have that relaxed feeling that I can play well here and that I have played well here. And I am usually playing well when I come here.

"The rest of the players take a long break, maybe they're a little rusty. I've been playing up until early December. I'm not that out of form and still have momentum of tournament playing."

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.