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.