Johnson holes out, tops Tiger
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The storybook ending at Sherwood had every element a golf fan could want – Tiger Woods with a commanding lead before a record crowd, clutch shots that kept getting better with every hole and a finish no one saw coming.
Zach Johnson never looked the part of a winner until he was posing with the trophy.
“I feel very fortunate and somewhat lucky,” Johnson said.
He also was very good.
Johnson was four shots behind with eight holes to play against the No. 1 player in the world. Tied for the lead on the 18th hole, Johnson quit on an 8-iron and hit into a hazard, and then went to the drop area figuring his only chance was to stuff it close to make bogey and hope Woods didn’t save par from a bunker.
Johnson holed out from 58 yards for par, and won on the first extra hole when Woods missed a 5-foot par putt.
“So-called silly season, right?” Johnson said.
The World Challenge was held at Sherwood for the 14th and final time. It moves next year to Isleworth in Florida.
It was only the fourth time in his career that Woods failed to win when he had at least a two-shot lead going into the final round, and the second time at Sherwood. Graeme McDowell made up a four-shot deficit in the 2010 World Challenge and beat Woods in a playoff.
That wasn’t nearly as wild as the finish Sunday.
Johnson, who closed with a 4-under 68, nearly holed out from 88 yards on the par-5 16th hole. His tee shot on the par-3 17th hole covered the flag and landed 4 feet away for a birdie to tie for the lead. But he got caught up in the moment after Woods hit into the bunker, and his 8-iron came up woefully short and into hazard.
“It looked to me like it was going to be a very, very difficult 4 for him,” Johnson said about Woods’ bunker shot. “I’m trying to get somewhat around the hole and make a 5. It wasn’t exactly a full wedge shot, but it was one that I could be aggressive with – 58 yards, trying to hit it about 52, 53, and we saw what it did.”
The ball took three bounces, the last one just beyond the hole, and it stopped and spun back a few inches into the cup.
“A little too dramatic for me,” Johnson said.
Woods hit a bunker shot just as exquisite to about 2 feet for a par that gave him a 70 and forced a playoff. They finished at 13-under 275.
In the playoff, Woods blinked first with a smooth 7-iron that tailed off to the right and into the same bunker, this lie even tougher. Johnson hit the green and two-putted for par, and while Woods hit another great shot out of the sand, his par putt to extend the playoff spun out of the left side of the cup.
“Zach, I don’t know how the last three iron shots didn’t go in the hole,” Woods said. “Pretty impressive what he did. He got me.”
Johnson won $1 million and should go to No. 9 in the world, the first time in his career he has been in the top 10.
Woods ended what he called a “damn good year” – five wins, the most of anyone in the world – with a shocking loss to Johnson. Two years ago, Woods ended the longest drought of his career when he went birdie-birdie at Sherwood to beat Johnson by one shot.
Matt Kuchar (67) and Bubba Watson (70) tied for third at 9-under 279.
The attendance Sunday was 24,922, a record for any round in 14 years at Sherwood. Traffic outside the tony club in the Santa Monica foothills looked like an LA freeway in what could be the last chance in the near future to see Woods in southern California.
Woods appeared to have his sixth title at Sherwood sewed up when Johnson missed a short par putt on the 10th hole to fall four shots behind with eight holes to play. Woods had said on Saturday that Johnson wasn’t the kind of player who went away easily, and he was right.
Johnson picked up birdies on the 11th and 12th holes, and then got back in the game on the 14th when Woods three-putted from long range on the 14th, and Johnson saved his par with an 8-foot putt to get within one shot.
The rest of the way looked like the final rounds of a heavyweight fight, even if only one of them looked the part. Johnson has won 10 times on the PGA Tour including a major. What he lacks in power he makes up for with precision, and that was the case Sunday.
“The guy never ceases to amaze me,” Johnson said. “So yeah, I’ll take pride in the fact that I played against the best, and I got one.”
Johnson looked almost apologetic when Woods missed his par putt in the playoff, and it was shocking to see. No one from his generation has made more clutch putts than Woods, who spoke about the topic earlier in the week.
But not this time.
It was not the way he wanted to leave Sherwood, where Woods has five wins and now five runner-up finishes. The only consolation was $400,000 for finishing second, bringing to just over $14 million the earnings he has donated to his foundation from the three tournaments (AT&T National, Deutsche Bank, World Challenge) that support his education programs.