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Appleby seeks to avenge a fateful loss

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Eleven years ago, a long-hitting sandy-blond Australian went to sleep on a Saturday night in Augusta with a six-stroke Masters lead, the green jacket being sized up to inevitably hang from the shoulders of his 6-foot frame the following evening. Instead, Greg Norman spent that Sunday unsuccessfully trying to repair a haunted golf swing, with more than a tinge of self-doubt thumping in the pit of his stomach.


Norman's status as a forlorn hard-luck case at this tournament will forever be ensconced in the fateful memories of that day. His final-round 78 and five-stroke defeat at the hands of Nick Faldo remains one of golf's all-time cover-your-eyes scenes, synonymous with the most inelegant collapses in the history of the game.

The comparisons between Norman and Stuart Appleby come quick and easy, as the current Masters leader is another long-hitting sandy-blond Australian. But whatever happens in Sunday's final round, Stuart Appleby will not become Greg Norman. He will not surrender one of the largest third-round leads in Masters history, will not be subjected to years of incendiary remarks, will not be remembered as the guy who let the big one get away.


That's because Appleby isn't supposed to win on Sunday. Yes, he's leading the tournament by one stroke entering the final round, which is usually enough to make a guy the prohibitive favorite to be crowned champion ... except when the other man in the day's last pairing is named Tiger Woods.


"He won't even know I'm there," Appleby said with a laugh. "I'm sure I'll know he's there."


Tiger will be the one dressed in red opposite Appleby on the teebox. With a dozen major championships and four green jackets already to his name, Woods is looking to continue his inevitable march towards history. A victory would leave him five major titles shy of Jack Nicklaus' career record, but it would also mark his initial win in come-from-behind fashion on a Sunday.


If there's one detail to give Appleby cause for optimism, that's the one. And perhaps the only one. While every other current player owns a major record that pales in comparison to that of Tiger, the Aussie's results are staggering in their inefficiency. Appleby has made 40 previous major appearances and holds only three top-10 finishes, including a playoff loss at the 2002 British Open. For a man with eight PGA Tour wins to his name, he's held more than his share of bitter disappointment in the big ones.


"Look, Tiger has always got an advantage," said Appleby, who shot a third-round 73 on Saturday. "It's obscene that he has an advantage. It's quite obvious. You don't have to say, 'Wow, look and see that writer. Look, he stepped out on a limb and said Tiger has an advantage.' Yeah, he has more experience than what's left of this field put together."


If he sounds like a man who tends to engage in a laugh or two during a serious round of golf and isn't against having a good time on the course, it should. That's one of Appleby's main philosophies and one he'll bring into Sunday's round, too.


"I've found that the best play comes from really just relaxing and enjoying it and just taking what comes," he said, "because if you try and save what's not already made, which is trying to find a par when, you know, you can't control the outcome, you tend to make worse."


Perhaps that was the case on Saturday. Comfortably in the lead and working on a round of 2-under, Appleby blasted a disagreeable tee shot on the 17th hole and later three-putted, making triple-bogey for his only over-par hole of the day.


After the round, he didn't seemed alarmed by the miscue, wasn't hanging his head in shame or wishing he could have it to do all over again -- at least not externally. It's a mistake he obviously hopes not to make again, but admittedly isn't sure if that will be the case.


"I haven't got much experience to really say, 'Oh, well, I'll do this, I'll do that," Appleby said. "I will just plod along, do what I have been doing the last few days. Yeah, I'm just not going to be getting too wrapped up in it. There's a lot, a lot of work left. There's 18 holes, but to be honest, it's way more than that."


He's right. On the line is a green jacket. His first major championship. The first Masters victory for his homeland of Australia. And maybe, just maybe, a victory will allow Norman a big sigh of relief, a feeling of redemption warming over him as a fellow long-hitting sandy-blond countryman avenges that hurtful loss of 11 years ago.


"It's going to be a very interesting day for me," Appleby intimated. "It will be a real fight. Really, really tough."


Greg Norman knows just how he'll feel.


Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com