MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) —  Tiger Woods will play at the Australian Masters in November, his first tournament appearance Down Under since 1998.

Victoria state premier John Brumby held a news conference Thursday to confirm the world’s top-ranked golfer would play at the tournament at Kingston Heath, scheduled for Nov. 12-15.

Brumby predicted the visit by the world’s top golfer would earn Victoria state $12.54 million in economic benefits, which would offset Woods’ $3 million appearance fee.

Woods has recently returned from an eight-month layoff. He had season-ending knee surgery after winning the U.S. Open last year, his 14th career major. On Sunday, March 15, in his first stroke-play event since winning the U.S. Open, Woods shot 68 to finish eight shots behind in a tie for ninth at the World Golf Championships in Doral.

Stuart Appleby, among the Australians who regularly compete against Woods on the PGA Tour, said it was a coup for golf Down Under, even in the current economic climate.

“It will be great for the game and bring out a lot of people who haven’t seen him before – in person, not on a video game,” Appleby told The Associated Press.  “There’s a lot of people hurting in Australia, and they might look negatively that one guy is paid $3 million just to turn up. The common man won’t understand the business model because the government is paying for it.  They might not see the money he brings in.”

But he predicted huge galleries for Woods at Kingston Heath.

“He not been down here since the Presidents Cup,” Appleby said.  “He’s been to Asia multiple times.  He’s been to Europe multiple times. I think it’s good that he’s bringing his game to Australia.”

Woods, who was not immediately available for comment, is very selective about his appearances outside of the United States.

It will be Woods’ fourth tournament appearance Down Under and first since the 1998 Presidents Cup, when the U.S. lost to the International team at Royal Melbourne. Woods was 1-1 in foursomes play, 0-2 in fourball and beat Greg Norman in singles as the Americans were beaten 20 1/2 to 12 1/2.

His first visit was at the 1996 Australian Open on The Australian course in Sydney, where Woods finished tied for fifth, 12 strokes behind winner Norman.

He played in the 1997 Australian Masters at Hungtingdale in Melbourne, where he finished tied for eighth in the event, seven shots behind winner Peter Lonard of Australia.

Woods also played in the 2002 New Zealand Open at the Paraparaumu Beach course north of Wellington, where he finished tied for sixth, six strokes behind winner Craig Parry.

The Victoria state tax payers will reportedly cover half the cost of Woods’ visit via the government support for the event.
Australasian Tour tournament direct Andrew Langford-Jones said it was a good investment.

“Many, many people in Australia depend on their incomes and their jobs from the golf industry,” he was quoted saying.  “And the fact that someone like Tiger Woods … I guess the impetus that will give will be fantastic.”

Langford-Jones said tickets would be at a premium and the Kingston Heath course would be at full stretch to accommodate crowds, with Brumby estimating about 70,000-100,000 people attending the tournament over four days.

Luring Woods didn’t get 100 percent backing in Australia.

State opposition lawmakers questioned the cost of bringing Woods to Australia during a recession and Peter Thomson, a five-time British Open champion, said it could have a negative impact on the Australian Open.

“In my view it’s going to do a lot of damage to our national Open which comes two weeks after this one in Melbourne,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.  “The Australian Open is our national championship, it is the most important event that we have.

“He won’t be playing in that but that (Masters appearance) sucks up all the potential sponsorship.”

AP Photo/J Pat Carter. Tiger Woods