The 41-year-old Australian, once one of the steadiest players in the game, has virtually disappeared since he shot a 59 in the final round to win the inaugural Greenbrier Classic two years ago for his ninth PGA Tour victory.
"It was really a crumbling wreck, my game," said Appleby, who will be back on the Old White TPC Course this week at the Greenbrier Resort. "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."
Appleby has only one top-10 finish in 45 tournaments on the circuit since, a tie for 10th in the 2011 Honda Classic. Last week, he was No. 301 in the World Golf Ranking. In 2004, he was No. 8, a career best.
However, he showed that he might be turning things around two weeks ago when he posted three rounds in the 60s at the Travelers Championship before closing with a 2-over-par 72 that left him in a tie for 18th.
It was only his second top-25 finish this year — the other was a tie for 21st in the Honda — and he rose 23 spots in the ranking.
"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," said Appleby, who claimed eight victories on the PGA Tour in a span of 10 seasons, from the 1997 Honda through the 2006 Shell Houston Open.
". . . 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."
When Appleby joined Al Geiberger (1977), Chip Beck (1991), David Duval (1999) and Paul Goydos (earlier in 2009) as the only players the shoot 59 in a PGA Tour event, it was enough to give him a one-stroke victory over Jeff Overton.
For the hard-luck Overton, who is winless in seven seasons on the PGA Tour, it was the most cruel of four runner-up finishes he has recorded.
"I got beat by a 59," said Overton, who was seven strokes ahead of Appleby at the start of the final round and closed with 67, his fourth consecutive round in the 60s, including a 64-62 start. "What can you say?"
The Aussie holed birdie putts from 15, 10 and 11 feet on the last three holes of the Old White TPC Course to win with his 59, the way Geiberger and Duval did.
"It was great to do that to win the tournament," Appleby said.
However, all that seemed to do was slow a slide that started in 2009, when Appleby posted a career-worst two finishes in the top 25 and missed the top 125 on the PGA Tour for the first time since his rookie year, 1996.
Even though the results this year have not shown it — he has missed the cut eight times in 14 tournaments — Appleby believes things are close to turning around.
"Body and mind is a lot better, and if you get those two right, you play better golf," Appleby said at the Travelers. "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 (barely) 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."
There are those who believe that shooting 59 is a curse.
Geiberger, known as "Mr. 59," won only once more on the PGA Tour after his 59 in the final round of the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic, and the 47-year-old Goydos has not won since his 59 in the first round of the John Deere Classic.
Beck claimed only one more PGA Tour victory after shooting 59 in the third round of the 1991 Las Vegas Classic and did a disappearing act similar to Appleby’s. But the most curious case is Duval’s.
Duval captured the 1999 Bob Hope Classic with his final-round 59 and went on to win the Players Championship and unseat Tiger Woods as No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking later that year before winning the 2001 British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Since then — nada, zip, nothing.
So Appleby is only the latest trying to find life in golf after 59.