CROMWELL, Conn. - It’s a short list, five names in all. Al Geiberger was the first, in 1977, followed by Chip Beck in 1991, and David Duval eight years later. Then twice in 2010, during a three-week span: Paul Goydos, followed by Stuart Appleby.
Five names, the only players to shoot 59 in PGA Tour history.
Such an achievement has followed the five to varying degrees. Geiberger, as the first, is perhaps best known for shooting 59. Duval’s 59 came in the final round and brought him a victory, but he went on to win the British Open and be ranked No. 1 in the world. Neither Beck nor Goydos won the tournament in which they shot 59.
Which leaves Appleby, who, like Duval, shot his 59 in the final round of a tournament he won. In Appleby’s case, it was the 2010 Greenbrier Classic, the most recent of his nine PGA Tour victories, an unexpected win that he hoped would be an indication that his game was trending upward, back to the days when he was winning almost every year.
Instead, it’s been downhill since. Appleby doesn’t have a finish better than a tie for 10th since his 59, a span of 44 tournaments in which he’s missed 21 cuts. He’s 181st on the money list, and has seen his world ranking plummet to, amazingly, 324th. Compare that with a high of No. 8, in 2004.
Appleby was in a chipper mood, then, after shooting a second-round 65 at the Travelers Championship on Friday. He got his round in before two weather delays suspended play for the day, and left him within two shots of Fredrik Jacobson’s lead.
Most importantly, it gave Appleby two more rounds, since he’ll make the cut - once the second round is completed; play is scheduled to resume at 7 a.m. Saturday - for just the sixth time this year in 14 starts.
“Nice to play well, nice to be thinking well and feel like there’s some zip in my game, you know, all parts of my game,’’ Appleby said. “I’m really looking forward to testing that out over the weekend. I really haven’t seen enough weekends for quite a while. I’ve been playing golf, just not the level I’m used to and really the player I should be.’’
Appleby won eight times on tour in a 10-year stretch, starting with the 1997 Honda Classic. He won the season-opening tournament at Kapalua three straight years (2004-06), lost in a playoff at the 2002 British Open, and went 12 years without finishing worse than 55th on the PGA Tour money list.
But Appleby slipped in 2009, with a career-worst two top-25 finishes in 25 tournaments and finishing outside the top 125 for the first time since his rookie year, in 1996.
Winning at Greenbrier seemed to stop the slide, especially in the headline-grabbing, momentum-building fashion in which he won. But it’s stood out as Appleby’s exception since the start of the 2009 season, not his norm.
What’s gone wrong?
“It was really a crumbling wreck, my game,’’ Appleby said. “I wasn’t hitting it any good and I wasn’t thinking any good and I was just finding it really hard. All self-induced issues. I had a back injury that was affecting my swing, not hurting me, and that seemed to make it hard to get on top all of last year.
“I’ve been missing cuts left and right. It’s been not a lot of fun, sort of strange.’’
A look at Appleby’s season statistics reflect the sorry state of his game. He’s better than 107th in only one key category - driving distance, in which he’s ranked 76th.
Friday, then, was a round that came at the right time. Appleby made seven birdies, with bogeys at the fourth and 18th the only dropped shots. He took advantage of his birdie opportunities, hitting 11 greens and converting seven times.
The biggest boost might have come from the putter. He took only 25 putts, an improvement from the 29 he needed in a first-round 68.
Appleby, searching for answers, made the decision recently to go back to the same putter he used when he shot his 59. Good vibes? Hey, whatever it takes. He also says he’s thinking better and more positively, not easy to do when you’re piling up early trips home after two rounds, without a paycheck to show for your work week.
“Body and mind is a lot better, and if you get those two right, you play better golf,’’ Appleby said. “I went back to the putter I had with the 59 and I tried to keep the game as simple as it can be.
“I’m playing well. I haven’t played well for a long time. I don’t want to sound like I’m taking pennies or begging, but I’ve just missed so many cuts. So nice to play on the weekend. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the first tee on a Saturday.’’