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U.S. Open: Dynamite Strikes Again
Oct 22, 2011, 8:26 PM

CHESAPEAKE, Va. -- When Darren Appleton came to the table with ball in hand and an 11-6 lead in the race-to-13 U.S. Open final, the crowd sensed Shawn Putnam's last chance followed his cue ball into the side pocket. And if Appleton's dominant performance wasn't enough, at that exact moment, the pop of a champagne cork was heard behind the packed grandstands.

Fittingly, Appleton cleaned up that open table and the next to clinch the 36th U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, his second consecutive win in Chesapeake, Va.

Sitting in the hot-seat, Appleton rolled through the early racks against Putnam, who had lost to the Brit earlier in the event. Consistently pocketing the wing ball on the break -- he made a ball on all 13 breaks, scratching just once -- Appleton literally played perfect pool en route to a 6-0 lead. On his way through the seventh rack, he finally erred, as the cue ball found the corner pocket.

Putnam cleaned up to get on the board, with the partisan crowd erupting in support. He managed to close the gap to 6-3. But the match never slipped from Appleton's control. In a match dominated by safety play, Dynamite Darren proved to have more firepower.

Putnam's last-ditch effort put him within five, 11-6. But that final scratch proved his final appearance at the table. Appleton calmly cleared the final table, screaming "Yes! Yes! Yes!" with cue overhead upon clinching the title.

"It feels absolutely wonderful," he said, pocketing the $30,000 top prize. "I don't know what it is, but I feel totally at home here."

Putnam, meanwhile, collected his $15,000 prize knowing there was little he could do.

"I'm happy with how I played," he said. "I just didn't get many chances. But I'm ecstatic that I finished second at the U.S. Open."

In addition to a strong runner-up finish, Putnam also shot his way onto the 2011 Mosconi Cup team, his second appearance after making the squad in 2005.

No doubt he will see Appleton there. The Brit admitted to a bit of nerves before the final match, perhaps heightened knowing what was at stake in the final.

"I hadn't won a big event this year," he said. "It's always hard to get that first one. And I know that if I win, I will get invited to more major events next year."

But the moment he broke open the first rack, Appleton seemed completely at ease. His shotmaking was unparalleled and his break unquestionably efficient.

And for that, Appleton gave credit to an earlier opponent. In a mid-week match, he faced Canadian Jason Klatt, who promptly ran seven straight racks for a 7-2 lead. Appleton then faced a 6-10 deficit before taking the final five racks for a thrilling comeback win.

"When I played Jason, he was breaking great," Appleton said. "So I really tried to just copy his break and that seemed to work."

Winning his second straight U.S. Open title, Appleton joins Mika Immonen and Nick Varner as the only back-to-back titlists in the event's 36-year history. As for a third title, the Brit isn't ready to think about that just yet.

"Next year's a long ways away," he said. "I just want to enjoy this one for now."