Stuart Appleby thankful Tiger Woods came to Australia at the right time

Tiger Woods, Australian Masters
Mark Dadswell/Getty Images
Tiger Woods won the Australian Masters 10 days before his car accident.

HONOLULU, Hawaii - American golf fans contemplate the Tiger Woods scandal and think: How did it come to this? And where in the world is Woods?

Australians, on the other hand, ponder the mayhem that would have ensued if the scandal had broken just 10 days earlier.

Woods received a reported $3 million appearance fee to play in the Australian Masters at Melbourne's Kingston Heath Golf Club in November. Half of his fee was paid by the Victorian state government, which got blowback from budget-minded skeptics. But it all turned out well when thousands of fans mobbed the event, generating $31 million for the state economy, and Woods won the tournament Nov. 15.

The National Enquirer broke the first news of his infidelity Nov. 25.

"We were just lucky we got him," said Stuart Appleby from the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club, where he shot 72-73 and missed the cut. "If all that stuff had come out a week earlier, it would have been terrible for Australian golf because he would have walked, and everyone would have wanted to turn in their tickets."

As it was, Appleby, or more to the point Appleby's favorite cause, ended up being one of the biggest beneficiaries of Woods's appearance Down Under, his first in 11 years. At Appleby's request, Woods spent a few minutes speaking to the kids from Appleby's junior golf program after playing in the Wednesday pro-am.

"It's a grass-roots program but it's not yet a foundation," Appleby said. "I was trying to maximize the exposure to the game for my kids, and there were one or two thousand of them sitting in the stands behind the 18th green, all wearing red shirts, as Tiger spoke to them. They absolutely loved it."

The junior program is important to Appleby, who has funded it himself to the tune of around $200,000 a year, although he is looking for a sponsor to pick up the costs. In fact the date with Woods in Melbourne was important enough for Appleby to skip the last PGA Tour event of the year at Disney, the same week as the Australian Masters, even though he was outside the top 125 in earnings and would lose his card. (He's using his one-time exemption for being in the top 25 in career earnings to play the Tour in 2010.)

"I thought I'd use this exemption when I was old and washed up," he said, "but it is what it is. I'm exempt into everything but the majors, the WGCs and the Players." Appleby knew he was lucky to get those few minutes with Woods because the global icon is always in demand, but Appleby didn't know exactly how lucky. Nor did Australian golf fans realize exactly how risky their $3 million investment in Woods really was, or that they would be the last to see the world No. 1 in action.

Woods seemed out of sorts at Kingston Heath, once violently spiking his driver into the turf and looking on with chagrin as it bounced into a clot of fans. It's possible he knew of the coming media storm. He crashed his car Nov. 27, two days after the National Enquirer story, his infamous voice mail to Jaimee Grubbs went viral Dec. 3, and Woods all but disappeared from public view, offering only a few awkward words of contrition on his website.

Meanwhile Australian golf came away a winner, so close to the scene of the accident but somehow, remarkably, unscathed.

"I've had so many compliments," Appleby said. "The kids, the parents, no one could stop talking about it. There was a lot of criticism for paying him $3 million from the opposition party. I think it was a good investment."

 

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