Source: USA TODAY
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Zach Johnson just wouldn’t go away.
Not when he trailed world No. 1 and tournament host Tiger Woods by three shots on the front nine at Sherwood Country Club and by four heading to the 11th tee box in Sunday’s final round of the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge. And he wasn’t fleeing even after hitting his worst shot of the week on the 72nd hole.
Instead, Johnson just put his head down and played on. With birdies at 11 and 12, he cut the deficit to two against his playing partner and a bogey by Woods on the 14th made it one. Then Johnson had kick-in birdies at 16 and 17 to pull even and after hitting his worst shot of the week, a flare into the hazard from the middle of the fairway, Johnson stayed even when he holed his drop shot on the final hole from 58 yards for a par while Woods made a nifty par of his own from a greenside bunker to force a playoff.
And finally, after all those heroics in regulation, the underdog Johnson claimed the title with a par on the first sudden-death hole as Woods missed a five-footer that would have forced another extra hole.
“Today was pretty boring early and then there was a bit too much drama at the end there,” said Johnson, who was out-dueled for the title by Woods here two years ago. “I feel fortunate and somewhat lucky to have won.
” … I never thought I was out of it and I just wanted to plug along. Then I started making putts.”
Johnson (68) and Woods (70) finished regulation at 13 under. Bubba Watson (70) and Matt Kuchar (67) finished joint third, four shots back.
“I don’t know how the iron shots on 16 and 17 that Zach hit didn’t go in the hole,” said Woods, who broke into a huge smile after Johnson holed out. “He really hit the ball well coming in. And he got me.
“I think everyone was pretty entertained.”
Woods, who has five wins and five seconds in this tournament, failed to capture title No. 6 in a season that in many ways was highlighted, despite earning PGA Tour Player of the Year honors, by his disappointment in the major championships and a glut of noise engulfing him away from the course.
Still, following a year that included a public spat with Sergio Garcia during and after The Players Championship; insinuations of cheating leveled by a golf analyst; an elbow injury during the U.S. Open and unfounded tales of his relationship with girlfriend, skiing star Lindsey Vonn, Woods heads into an extended offseason pleased.
“It was a pretty damn good year,” said Woods, who will open his 2014 in the Farmers Insurance Open January 23-26 at Torrey Pines, where he has won eight times. “Five wins at some pretty good venues. I’m pleased with the year.”
He’s also feeling pretty good heading into 2014 with a new driver in his bag. Woods switched out the shafts on his new Nike Covert model and went with a heavier shaft. He said he drove the ball “great” all week.
“I’m very pleased to find something off the tee,” said Woods, who equaled his course record with a 62 in Friday’s second round. “The shaft made a big difference.”
Another change in 2014 will be the site of the World Challenge. After 14 years, the tournament is heading east to Florida. The event has raised $25 million for Woods’ foundation and was instrumental in building a learning center in Anaheim. Woods has donated his winnings from the tournament, more than $9 million, to the foundation.
“It is pretty sad to leave Sherwood, because there are so many great memories for me,” Woods said. “This was the last (place) my dad ever got a chance to watch me play live, and this event had always had special meaning for me and my father.”