Zach Johnson has all the right shots to beat Tiger Woods at Sherwood
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Even with a two-shot lead going into the final round of a tournament he had won five times, Tiger Woods expected a fight to finish from Zach Johnson. He never could have imagined how Johnson would steal the show at Sherwood.
Johnson was four shots behind with eight holes to play against the No. 1 player in the world.
He was playing his fourth shot on the par-4 closing hole from 58 yards away in a drop area, figuring his only chance was to get up-and-down for a bogey and hope that Woods couldn't convert a par from a tough spot in the bunker.
What unfolded was hard to believe for the largest crowd ever at Sherwood.
Johnson holed out with a wedge to make par. Woods hit an exquisite bunker shot to match par and force a playoff. And the final edition of the World Challenge at Sherwood ended on the first extra hole when Woods missed a 5-foot par putt.
"I feel very fortunate and somewhat lucky," Johnson said.
He also was very good.
Johnson made two birdies and an 8-foot par putt to get within one shot. He nearly holed out a wedge from 88 yards on the par-5 16th hole to match birdies with Woods, who got up-and-down from left of the green. Johnson covered the flag with a tee shot on the par-3 17th hole that landed 4 feet away for a birdie to tie Woods.
And then came a big moment that for so many years seemed to be the kind of shot belonging to Woods.
"I'm trying to get somewhat around the hole and make a 5," Johnson said. "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," said Johnson, who closed with a 4-under 68.
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 after his closing 70. "Pretty impressive what he did. He got me."
Johnson and Woods finished at 13-under 275, four shots clear of Matt Kuchar (67) and Bubba Watson (70).
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.
The World Challenge was held at Sherwood for the 14th and final time. It moves next year to Isleworth in Florida. 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.
The stage was set for the proper sendoff. It turned out to be redemption for Johnson.
Two years ago, he was poised to win the World Challenge until Woods made birdie on the last two holes for a one-shot victory, the first for Woods in more than two years dating to the crisis in his personal life. That sent him on his way to three wins in 2012, and five more this year that restored Woods to No. 1 in the world.
That made the win for Johnson — his second this year, 11th of his career — that much sweeter, even if the ending was awkward.
"I went head-to-head against the best," Johnson said. "Young guys ... he's their idol. He's their Jack Nicklaus. He's the guy that paved the way. He's the one that keeps pushing the ceiling higher and higher and he's the one that keeps raising the bar. If he stays healthy — hopefully, he does — there's no telling what he can do.
"So yeah, I'll take pride in the fact that I played against the best, and I got one," he said. "I mean, he's gotten a lot more than I have. So hopefully, I'm in that position again and I think I'll learn from today."
Woods hit two splendid bunker shots on the 18th hole — in regulation and the playoff — but was let down by his putter. He was blocking putts for most of Sunday, and made sure he didn't make that mistake on the 5-footer for par to extend the playoff, a putt that broke sharply to the right.
This one caught the left lip and spun out.
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.