MELBOURNE, Australia (AP)—Tiger Woods gave the record crowds at the AustralianMasters everything they could have wanted with his victory Sunday, except adefinitive answer when he would return.
“I promise it won’t be as long,” Woods said to yet another warm ovation.
Woods took the lead for good with a 7-iron to within four feet for birdie onthe fifth hole, and he hardly missed a shot the rest of the way for a 4-under 68and a two-shot win over Australia’s Greg Chalmers .
He won for the seventh time this year, and the 82nd time worldwide in hiscareer. Woods now has a trophy from every continent where golf is played.Australia, the 13th country where he has won an individual event, had been themissing link.
“I’ve never won down here, so now I have won on every continent, except forAntarctica,” Woods said. “I haven’t played the Antarctica Four-Ball yet. Butto have won on every playable continent, it’s something I’ve always wanted todo. And now I’ve done that.”
It had been 11 years since Woods last competed in Australia, at the 1998Presidents Cup. Since then, he has won 13 majors and 72 times around the world,becoming the face of golf and one of the most famous athletes in the world.
More than 100,000 fans who passed through the gates of Kingston Heath gavehim rock-star treatment.
Woods put on quite a show.
One day after he lost his swing and nearly fell out of contention, Woods hitevery fairway and only ran into trouble when a photographer standing too closeclicked twice in the middle of his swing, leading to his lone bogey.
Starting the day in a three-way tie for the lead, Woods began his finalround with a 3-wood to the par-5 first hole that landed next to the hole androlled 30 feet away, producing the first of many roars from thousands of fanssurrounding the green, some of them perched in trees.
After his birdie on the fifth, he followed with his most exquisite shot ofthe day—from 82 yards away to a firm green just over a ridge, the pin on aslope feeding toward a deep bunker. Playing a 56-degree wedge for a flattershot, it bounced 30 feet from the flag, checked slightly and trickled down theslope to 2 feet.
“It came off perfect,” he said.
Chalmers, who hasn’t won on his native soil since 1998, found consolation inhis runner-up finish. It was one of the biggest weeks of golf in Australia,energy not felt since the glory days of Greg Norman .
He stayed within range of Woods on the back nine, but failed to convert acouple of good birdie chances and shot 70.
“It was like a football crowd brought to the golf, and for us as players, Ihave only experienced that a handful of times, and I’ve never experienced it inAustralia at all,” Chalmers said. “That was special. It really was veryexciting, and it made you play better. Even though I finished second, I’mthrilled that he’s here. I wish he would come every couple of years. I’m sure weall do.”
Asked on live television, the closing ceremony and in his press conferenceabout returning, Woods only said, “I would love to.”
“I want to come back, no doubt,” Woods said.
He said he would go over his 2010 schedule during the holidays, althoughAustralians are assured of at least seeing him in two years at Royal Melbournefor the Presidents Cup.
Woods received a $3 million appearance fee to play in the AustralianMasters. Half of that fee was paid by the Victorian government, which estimatedthe economic return at $20 million.
“He over-delivered,” said Ian Baker-Finch , the former British Openchampion helping out with local TV analysis.
Woods wasn’t too shabby on the golf course, either.
One week after he fell apart in the final round at the HSBC Champions inShanghai, Woods sorted out his swing problems overnight and was precise as everaround Kingston Heath. He saved par with a 10-foot putt on the ninth, and hereached the 574-yard 12th hole into the wind with a 3-wood for a key birdie.
The only mishap came on the 13th, with a sand wedge in his hand.
“I thought I was in control of the tournament after I made that birdie on12,” Woods said, “and then a photographer took the control right away fromme.”
The photographer, standing unusually close, took two pictures in the middleof his swing, and the ball sailed right of the green. Still fuming on the par-514th, he failed to make birdie and left himself open to Chalmers cutting intothe lead.
On the next hole, however, Woods hit an 8-iron that had the crowd buzzingduring its entire flight, the cheers getting louder as it covered the flag androlled 6 feet beyond the hole. He made the last birdie he needed.
The result was Woods slipping into a jacket after winning the Masters—thisone Australian gold, not Augusta green, but it will do. He finished at 14-under274 and earned about $250,000 from a purse that was half the size of hisappearance fee.
American Jason Dufner , who received an exemption between tournaments inAsia, shot 70 and tied for third with Frenchman Francois Delamontagne (69).James Nitties , part of that three-way tie for the lead going into the lastround, shot 73 to finish fifth, while fellow Australian Adam Scott recorded hissecond straight top 10 finish with a 69 to tie for sixth.
Asked what legacy he would leave behind, Woods smiled and said, “I got a W.That was the goal this week.”
No matter the country, the time zone or the size of the gallery, that’s onething that doesn’t change.