Stuart Appleby wins in homeland

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Stuart Appleby ended a nine-year drought at home by winning the Australian Masters on Sunday, rallying from a seven-shot deficit with birdies on his last two holes for a 6-under 65.

Appleby was as golden as the winner's jacket with his putter down the stretch. He knocked in a 30-foot par putt on the 16th hole to stay in the mix, took the lead with a 25-footer for birdie on the 17th and closed with a two-putt birdie for a one-shot victory.

Adam Bland, who began the final round at Victoria Golf Club with a three-shot lead, missed a 10-foot eagle putt on the last hole that would have forced a playoff. He closed with a 73. Daniel Gaunt shot 71 and was alone in third.

Defending champion Tiger Woods completed an entire year without a victory, although he finished in style. Woods made two eagles over the last four holes, played the last six holes in 6 under and matched his best score of the year with a 65.

Woods finished alone in fourth, his highest finish of a forgettable season. He tied for fourth in the Masters and U.S. Open.

Appleby last won on native soil in the 2001 Australian Open.

About his only mistake on an overcast Sunday was missing the trophy presentation. Only when he heard his name over the speakers did he make a dash under the grandstands and onto the 18th green.

He won for the second time this year, having shot 59 to win The Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia.

Appleby was one shot behind Gaunt on the 16th when he holed the 30-foot par putt. Behind him, Gaunt went over the back of the green, and his weak chip rolled back down the hill toward him, leading to a double bogey. On the 17th, his birdie putt from just off the green hit the pin and stayed out.

Appleby won for the 12th time worldwide, and the Australian Masters was the only home event that had eluded him. He finished at 10-under 274 and earned just over $270,000.

Woods started the final round 10 shots behind. With a game reminiscent of his singles match in the Ryder Cup, he played his last six holes in 6 under, including a pair eagles, to get within two shots of the leader. With a final birdie from Appleby, Woods finished three shots behind at 277, as close to the winner as he has been all year.

"It would have been nice if I had gotten off to that start," Woods said of his finish. "It came too little, too late. I still needed some help. Unfortunately, it's not going to happen."

Woods also had a 65 in the first round of The Barclays at the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs on the PGA Tour.

He finished a calendar year without a victory for the first time in his career. He won the Australian Masters a year ago at Kingston Heath for his 82nd title worldwide and a No. 1 ranking that no one could argue.

Twelve days later, however, he ran his car into a tree outside his Florida home, and that led to revelations that he had been cheating on his wife. Woods spent nearly five months out of golf, including two months in rehab at a Mississippi clinic, returning at Augusta National.

Still, there were ominous signs early that this day would not work in his favor. Woods hit a 2-iron on the 257-yard opening hole that he tried to either put in a bunker or on the green. Somehow, it carried over the bunker and was nestled on the edge of a grass, a downhill lie so severe that he had no shot but to swat it into the sand. He missed a 4-foot par putt.

Woods also missed a 3-foot par putt on the eighth, and trailed by as many as 12 shots at one point.

Most of that was forgotten by the finish -- a short iron to 3 feet on the 13th, a 45-foot eagle putt on the 15th, an up-and-down from just off the 17th green for birdie, and the 15-foot eagle on the final hole.

Woods switched to a Nike putter, the Method 003 with a mallet shape, for the final round. He also changed putters from his Scotty Cameron at the British Open. In both cases, he attributed that to slow greens, on which he struggles.

"It was fun to make a couple of putts," Woods said. "It's amazing what happens when you get a putt to the hole. It actually does go in."

Woods had back-to-back top 10s for the first time all year.

It was the second straight week that he started and finished with good scores, only to fall out of contention in the middle two rounds. A week ago, Woods tied for sixth in the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, 12 shots behind.

"I can do this in streaks," he said. "Unfortunately, I haven't done this for an entire round."