Stu cooks up a winner in Hawaii

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:02 AM ET

The PGA Tour doesn't have many more spectacular backdrops than The Plantation Course at Kapalua on the island of Maui.

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Tiger Woods is determined to reshape the golf landscape that has seen him drop out of his world No. 1 ranking.

RIVALS

When all was said and done at the season-opening Mercedes Championship, Woods made up a little ground on chief rivals Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, so close at the top of the rankings.

In the end, Woods and Els tied at 19-under-par, a shot ahead of Singh but two shots behind Aussie Stuart Appleby, who won his second straight Mercedes title. Jonathan Kaye was alone in second place at 20 under.

Despite the fact he didn't win, Woods made it clear he's just about ready to get his old title back. The only thing separating him from a win this week was his putter.

"Man, I think I had 300 putts this week," sighed Woods when it was over. At 19-under-par, he was two shots off the winning score.

"Only bright side is that I really hit it great all week. If I'm able to keep hitting it like that, I know I'm going to putt better than I did here."

By his own estimation, Woods missed at least a dozen birdie putts inside 15 feet this week, a range he normally is comfortable with.

"The greens are so grainy and slow," he said. "Not like any place else that we play, really. So it's hard to get comfortable on them."

Both Els and Singh made uncharacteristic missteps down the stretch yesterday that probably prevented either from winning the tournament.

Singh was leading when he made a rare triple bogey at the par-4 13th hole to harpoon his chances. And then Els, just a shot behind, botched the par-5 18th hole, launching a 350-yard drive into trees left of the fairway, making bogey on a hole he routinely birdies.

"When you do something like that, it just makes you sick," Els said.

"It's such a great driving hole. There's no excuse for what I did."

Kapalua normally plays in favourable scoring winds but yesterday's round was played in a rare "kona" wind, opposite to the prevailing breeze, with blustery conditions that caused several weather delays.

"Sometimes this place lulls you into a false sense of security," Appleby said. "I made some mistakes today that probably should have cost me the tournament but, in the end, they didn't matter."

Neither did the fact that Appleby began his defence with a one-over-par 74 on Thursday, a score that put him nine shots off the lead right out of the gate. He followed with rounds of 64 and 66, then closed strongly with a 67 yesterday.

"After Thursday, I didn't really think winning was going to be an option," said Appleby, whose wife is expecting their first child any day now. "But, having won here before, I just came out with a relaxed attitude and got on a roll."

Canadian Mike Weir, who began the day very much in contention, had a disappointing final round of 76 to finish at 12-under, good enough for a 13th-place tie in the 31-man field of champions from last year.

Weir's score yesterday tied for the worst of the day. He started his round with two bogeys and a double-bogey in the first five holes.

DAMAGE ALREADY DONE

He played even-par golf from that point on but the damage already was done. This kind of Sunday round has become something of a trend for Weir.

Despite his standing in the top 10 in the world rankings, he was 123rd on tour in final-round scoring last year with a Sunday stroke average of 71.88.

Calgary's Stephen Ames finished with a round of 71 and a four-round total of nine-under, good for a 19th-place tie.


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