Two days shy of two years ago, Tiger Woods won his last professional tournament at the Australian Masters, edging feisty journeyman Greg Chalmers.
This time, the Aussie left-hander exacted his revenge, extending Woods' drought in the process -- though Woods made it clear that another win seems just around the corner.
Despite a vintage run that had the Aussie crowd holding its breath at times on the back nine, Chalmers held off the former world No. 1 to win the Emirates Australian Open by two shots at The Lakes Golf Club outside Sydney.
Woods finished third at 11 under and threw everything he had at Chalmers down the stretch, and for a couple of hours, it looked as though his career-worst two-year skid was about to end.
You remember this dude, right?
He wore the traditional red shirt. For the first time in months, meaningful putts actually fell. The crowd, sensing another characteristic comeback, started going berserk. There were fist pumps and the assassin’s stare that had been absent for so long.
Even though he fell short, Woods seemed as relieved to have finally traded haymakers with foes on a Sunday back nine as he was grumbling about one that got away. At last showing signs of progress, he was asked when he’d again be ranked No. 1.
He never blinked.
“I don’t know,” Woods said. “I’ve just got to keep plugging along.”
It was as though his personal and professional nightmare was about to end -- but Chalmers, 38, who won the 1998 Aussie Open, didn’t blink.
“I fought as hard as I could all day,” Woods said, “Unfortunately it looks like it’ll be a couple of shots short.”
The week had some ups and downs, but it will clearly be received as a major step forward since he hadn’t contended since the spring, and not on the back nine on Sunday since an unofficial event he hosted 11 months ago.
After blowing the 36-hole lead with a sloppy third round, Woods began the final day six shots back, but started climbing back into the mix in the middle of the round. Despite two bogeys in a three-hole stretch, Woods twice crept within a stroke of Chalmers, a PGA Tour member with one of the game’s sweetest putting strokes.
Generating the loudest cheer of the week, Woods chipped in from behind the green on the par-5 14th for an eagle to close within one, but Chalmers, playing behind Woods, answered. Same thing an hour later, after Woods had knocked his approach on the par-5 17to to within 12 feet for eagle, but settled for a birdie and a 5-under 67.
Yet a moment later, Chalmers made a birdie of his own from 30 inches at the 15th to restore a two-shot lead.
Woods, who has fallen 56 spots to No. 58 in the world this season, shot a 3-over 75 in the third round. Tuesday marks the two-year anniversary of Woods’ last victory in any sanctioned event, at the 2009 Aussie Masters. Two weeks later, he drove his car into a tree and his dark professional spiral began.
Still trying to sort out his swing under pressure, Woods put together his best effort since the Masters, but made a couple of crucial mistakes off the tee, making a bogey on the par-5 11th and then hitting his tee shot that plugged into the mud near a water hazard on the short 13th, a drivable par-4 for some players. He made another bogey there.
“I shouldn’t have gone for it,” Woods said of his tee ball, which nearly landed in a pond, but plugged in the mud instead. “Driver’s too much, a 3-wood’s not enough. I should have laid up. Unfortunately, I made the wrong decision.”
Woods will next play in the Presidents Cup matches next week in Melbourne.