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Appleby's back in the swing

Date

David Sygall

Flying free … having contemplated quitting golf during the worst form slump of his career, Stuart Appleby is in contention for a second Australian Open crown.

Flying free … having contemplated quitting golf during the worst form slump of his career, Stuart Appleby is in contention for a second Australian Open crown. Photo: Getty Images

IT MIGHT not happen at this tournament, and maybe not at the next, but the voice inside Stuart Appleby's struggling mind is once again speaking the language of victory.

Appleby walked off the course at the Australian Open with a solid 70 next to his name on Saturday and revealed the extent and complexity of the mental battle he's been waging with himself as his game and confidence went into freefall in the past couple of years. ''At the deepest periods, yeah,'' he said when asked if he had considered quitting. ''I was really feeling terrible. But another voice in your head goes, 'Man, you love this game' - and I do. There's so much more out there, so much more on the table. This is just a test, man. But at the worst, you're going, 'I don't know if I want to do this any more'. I know I've got the talent, I know I've got the resources, I've got the fight, the willpower and I can wait for my next victory and I'm very willing to wait.''

Appleby hasn't won a tournament since the 2010 Australian Masters, which came three months after he shot a remarkable 59 in the final round to win the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia. Much water had passed under the bridge since then, he said. Back problems in early 2011 affected his swing, adding to his woes until it all came crashing down late last year in Australia. ''Out she went,'' he said. ''It was a mess and mentally I was just toast. I was frustrated. It was a wasted year.''

Again, however, the determined Victorian went to war with himself. ''I thought, 'I've got to get going, got to turn it around','' he said. ''I decided to do a lot of work. I started walking, a lot of self help-style correspondence, and then running … just to get some energy back.

''I feel like I'm coming back. You've got to be patient. My game is definitely on the up. I've struggled just to believe in myself, believe in the things that I've done. If you struggle with your self-belief, you'll struggle with your scorecard. This game's going to kick you in the goolies more than it's going to pat you on the back.''

The 41-year-old compared his comeback to learning again how to ride a bike. He said his feet were back on the pedals and now he's trying to remember which gears to click into. He spoke about when he'd asked Swedish professional Jonas Blixt what he could do to fix his game. Blixt told Appleby that his game was sound, but he should ''police his thoughts''.

''There were times I felt I was never going to hit the hole,'' Appleby admitted. ''But the hole's just sitting there, dude. It hasn't changed shape in the past couple of hundred years. That cancer of thoughts creeps through your game. I would love to have just flicked a switch … but I understand patience is an unbelievable part of this game. I have a real belief that I can win again. But at times this year I've been tested. You never really remember the great things in your life. It's always the hurdles and obstacles. It's a work in progress. I've got 10 years of golf ahead of me. I'm not going to spend the last 10 years just turning up. I'm going to go out and create something. That's where this year, mentally, has been for me.''

John Senden holds a two-shot lead at seven-under-par heading into the final round, with Englishman Justin Rose outright second, one stroke ahead of Australians Matthew Jones, Kieran Pratt and the evergreen Peter Senior. Senior, 53, is in the hunt for a second Stonehaven Cup to add to his triumph way back in 1989. Appleby is four shots back.

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