He was unsure whether his troublesome back would stand up to 18 holes at Pebble Beach but now Stuart Appleby has to consider whether it can carry him a further 36 and a potential Champions Tour victory on debut.
Unwilling to play last week’s Sanford International because of how poorly he was hitting the golf ball, Appleby delivered a round at the Monterey Peninsula’s most famous links that he struggled to produce in his prime.
Starting his first round of the Pure Insurance Championship from the 10th tee, Appleby opened with a birdie, picked up shots at Pebble’s picturesque final two holes and played the front nine in 3-under 33 for a 6-under 66 total.
Only once has he shot a lower score at Pebble Beach – a 65 in the 2014 Pebble Beach Pro-Am – and it earned him an unexpected share of the lead alongside Germany’s Alex Cejka, Tom Lehman and KJ Choi in a share of third a further stroke back.
Playing in his first competitive tournament in more than two years, Appleby’s path to the Champions Tour since turning 50 in May has been a tentative one. Pain-free rounds of golf are a distant memory and even in his current lofty position at the top of the leaderboard he remains unsure what tomorrow will bring.
“I had no idea what to expect. I was a bit nervous starting,” Appleby conceded.
“I sort of wanted to play last week but I just was hitting it terrible. Body wasn’t quite right. And that’s been the thing, the body has been terrible. Just don’t have many reps under my belt.
“I haven’t played any golf really at all, much. Just getting 18 holes completed has been really difficult.
“Now I have really got to go and sense what do I want to get out of this week.
“How much do I stretch to keep my back going and all those sorts of things.
“The weather was cold and I felt reasonable today.
“Hit more shots than I thought I was going to out of the middle but I’ve still got to get a bit more
confident with my putting.”
A double bogey on the par-4 ninth was the only blight on Stephen Leaney’s Round 1 score of 3-under 69 also at Pebble Beach, David McKenzie (71) playing Pebble in one better than par.
John Senden’s round of 1-over 73 was the best of the three Aussies who played Spyglass Hill on day one, followed by Rod Pampling (74) and Robert Allenby (77).