- Associated Press - Monday, November 15, 2010

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - 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 press 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 after closing with a 6-under 65 for a one-shot victory. “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.”

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