Tiger Woods still stuck on 82 wins

The trophy case for Tiger Woods is collecting dust.

He finally gave the big crowds at Victoria Golf Club something
to cheer in the final hour of the Australian Masters by making two
eagles in a four-hole stretch and closing with a 6-under 65 to get
his name on the leaderboard for the first time all weekend.

At one point he was two shots behind, but Woods knew better.
There was no point in sticking around. This tournament was going to
be like so many others in a season that can’t end soon enough. He
stuffed his golf clubs into the trunk of a black sedan waiting to
take him to the airport so he could head home.

For the first time in his career, Woods is no longer the
defending champion of anything, anywhere in the world.

”I tried all week,” he said. ”Unfortunately, I didn’t do it.
I didn’t play good enough. Didn’t make enough putts. That’s what
happens.”

When he won the Australian Masters a year ago at Kingston Heath,
it was his 82nd victory around the world.

That remains his last.

Twelve days later, Woods ran his SUV over a fire hydrant and
into a tree, and it wasn’t long before allegations of infidelity
came gushing out. What followed was a year not many could have
expected. He sat out for nearly five months, including two months
in a rehabilitation clinic. He changed swing coaches. His wife
divorced him.

And he didn’t win a single tournament – not even close.

Stuart Appleby made it official an hour later when he birdied
the last two holes for his own 65, which turned into a one-shot
victory when Adam Bland missed a 10-foot eagle putt on the last
hole that would have forced a playoff.

Woods finished alone in fourth, recording consecutive top 10s
for the first time all year. He finished three shots behind, the
closest he has been to a winner since he was three back of Graeme
McDowell at the U.S. Open.

Perhaps it was only fitting that Appleby posed with the crystal
trophy before thousands who stuck around for the ceremony.

Tournament organizers, determined to raise the profile of the
Australian Masters by bringing it world renowned players, signed up
Sergio Garcia in the spring and added Camilo Villegas, Kapalua
winner Geoff Ogilvy and Robert Allenby, the highest-ranked
Australian. Woods also returned to defend his title.

Their faces were on the promotional posters around Melbourne.
They were the guests at the gala dinner. Appleby wasn’t even
invited to take part in a news conference before the tournament,
even though he got his name in the PGA Tour record book this year
by becoming only the second player to close with a 59, at The
Greenbrier Classic.

”I noticed it, but it was not even close to annoying me,”
Appleby said Sunday. ”I have an ego, no doubt about it. But it
wasn’t like, ‘Oh, they haven’t got me up there?’ It’s the Tiger
Woods show, and the others. You know what? It didn’t play out that
way.”

Woods still has one tournament left in 2010. After two weeks at
home – including Thanksgiving, the day his troubles began – he
hosts the Chevron World Challenge with a world-class field of 18
players. Woods has not lost at Sherwood since 2005.

He feels his game is coming around under Sean Foley, although he
only sees patches of it for now, such as the final six holes he
played at Victoria, or the end of his Ryder Cup singles match when
he played the final seven holes in 7-under par.

”It’s coming in streaks,” Woods said. ”I played like this in
the Ryder Cup, got into a streak there, went pretty low for 15
holes. This is very similar to that. I just need to get it for all
18 holes, and eventually, for all 72. The streaks are longer
now.”

How much longer will it take? Woods laughed.

”Hopefully, in two weeks at Chevron,” he said.

The culprit at the Australian Masters, as has been the case for
so much of the year, was his putting. On greens that were slower
than he realized – even tougher with weekend rain and cloud cover –
Woods finally switched putters.

He ditched his trusted Scotty Cameron for a Nike Method, a
heel-shafted putter that he practices with at home. It helps him
get a little more pace on the ball, which is why he switched to a
similar Nike putter for three rounds at the British Open.

Both times, the result was not inspiring.

Woods missed two par putts inside 4 feet on the front nine
Sunday, falling as many as 12 shots behind. The finish he put
together only looked good for the final score.

”I struggled this week with the speed of the greens,” he
said.

Appleby had no such trouble, especially at the end. He rallied
from a seven-shot deficit in the final round, stayed in the game by
making a 30-foot par putt on the 16th, pulled ahead with a 25-foot
birdie on the 17th and two-putted for birdie on the final hole.

It was a big win for Appleby, every bit as important as The
Greenbrier, for different reasons. It had been nine years since he
last won on Australian soil, and his victory Sunday gave him a
sweep of the biggest tournaments Down Under. He already had won the
Australian PGA Championship and the Australian Open.

And there’s nothing better than winning at home.

”We play around the world for big money and big tournaments and
big fancy ratings and everything like that,” he said. ”But you
come home to Australia, and it’s real. That’s probably hurt me too
many times, really wanting to win.”

Right now, Woods would take a win just about anywhere.