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.
“I figured I had to win once every 10 years,” said Appleby, who last won on home soil in the 2001 Australian Open.
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.
About Appleby’s 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 finished out of the top 125 on the PGA TOUR money list a year ago for the first time since his rookie season in 1996. He had to use a one-time exemption from the top 50 in career money to keep his card and buy some time to find his game.
“This really wraps things up in a nice bow,” he said.
Appleby was one shot behind Gaunt on the 16th when he pulled his tee shot into a thin lie in the bunker, tried to play a running shot and saw it come up 30 feet short. To lose a shot on that hole might have been the end of it. But the more he looked at the putt, the better chance he had of holing it, and he did.
Two groups 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.
What made it most special was winning in front of familiar faces.
“We play around the world for big money in big tournaments with big ratings,” he said. “But to come home to Australia, it’s for real. I think that hurt me too many times, because I was wanting to win.”
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 PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup playoffs.
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 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 2-iron on the 257-yard opening hole that he tried to either put in a bunker or on the green. Somehow, it carried 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.”