Zach Johnson capped a stunning comeback with a memorable playoff victory as he came from four shots back with eight holes to play to beat Tiger Woods in the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge.
Johnson, who birdied four holes between 11 and 17 to head to the last level with the world No.1 looked to have undone all his hard work when he shanked his approach at 18 into the water hazard.
But faced with a tough up and down from the permitted drop zone, the former Masters winner holed his chip shot for an unlikely par – leaving Woods with the tough task of getting down in two from the green-side bunker to force a playoff.
The 14-time major winner duly did so, but when faced with the same task at the first extra hole, the 37 year-old saw his five-foot par putt lip out hard, handing Johnson victory.
It was a sensational ending to a tournament that looked like becoming Woods’ sixth victory of the 2013 season due to his imperious record of winning 54 of 58 tournaments where he’s held at least a share of the lead after three rounds.
And it looked to be meandering towards another routine victory for the Stanford University graduate after birdies on two and five stretched his lead to three.
At the turn, that quickly became four as his playing partner Johnson bogied the tenth, but he bounced back in impressive style to birdie the par-five 11th and followed that up with another one at the 12th.
A sloppy bogey from Woods - who has hosted the tournament for 14 years at Thousand Oaks in California - on the par-four 14th saw his lead slide to a single shot, before both players made birdie on 16.
The fireworks began to really go off when Johnson stiffed his approach to tap-in range on the penultimate hole, but that was merely a sign of things to come as both players in the last group headed to 18 tied at minus 13.
Johnson, also 37, found the fairway and watched on as Woods’ tee shot found the left-hand rough.
The 79-time PGA Tour winner has produced some magical moments in the past at the closing hole of the Sherwood Country Club, as well being the victim of some brilliant shots too, but nothing comes close to what was about to unfold.
After Woods’ approach shot could only find the front bunker – leaving an unappetising up and down for par and a closing round of 70 – Johnson almost handed his playing partner the tournament when he shanked his second into the water hazard short of the green.
But he was not about give up, and watched on in pure delight as his wedge shot from the drop zone bounced three times before spinning back into the bottom of the cup – the huge crowd gathered around the 18th gallery erupted.
It didn’t disrupt the man who’s triumphed five times this year, however, as he rolled in his close-range putt after a beautiful bunker shot to force the first playoff in this tournament since Graeme McDowell’s remarkable victory over Woods in 2010.
Facing the task of the last hole yet again, both players found the fairway but Johnson stole the initiative when his approach landed safely on the dance floor, while Woods found the same bunker as he had previously.
A two-putt from Johnson left the five-time World Challenge winner with a three-foot putt to force another a extra hole, but to the obvious dismay of the thousands of adorning fans watching on, his putt had too much pace on it and lipped out – handing the Iowan his first victory at the Jack Nicklaus designed course.
Despite suffering an unlikely defeat having lead for most of the tournament, Woods was complimentary of what Johnson had achieved on the closing stretch: “It was pretty impressive what he did there,” he said, “he got me.”
Johnson, who had provided Sherwood with an unforgettable sendoff, added: “I feel very fortunate, and a bit lucky. It was little bit too dramatic for me.”
The off-season tournament, formerly the Chevron World Challenge before Northwestern Mutual became its title sponsor this year, will now be hosted in aid of the Tiger Woods foundation at Isleworth Country Club in Florida.
It was a sour ending for a season Woods labeled a “damn good year,” but he will leave the Californian country club with mixed memories having secured five wins and five runner-up finishes in its 14-year existence.
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