Zach Johnson, the victim of a Tiger Woods comeback two years ago at Sherwood Country Club, gave the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge host a dose of his own medicine Sunday when he holed out for par on the final hole of regulation and went on to win in overtime.
"It was pretty impressive what he did," Woods told NBC about Johnson’s rebound from four shots behind with eight holes to play to keep his final-round playing partner from notching his sixth win on the Tiger-friendly track. "He got me."
Woods, who hoped to end the tournament’s long run in Thousand Oaks, Calif., as well as the year with a W, seemed to have the contest nailed down, especially after Johnson lost his approach shot to the 72nd hole into the hazard. Then the 2007 Masters winner hit what he called the "No. 1 recovery shot" of his career, a 58-yard, three-quarter wedge stroke from the drop zone, which took three bounces, spun back, and curled into the hole.
All Woods could do was flash a crooked grin at Johnson’s Tiger-like heroics before splashing out of a green-side bunker and draining his two-footer to force a playoff.
Johnson’s incredible shot followed a head-scratcher of a miss, when he came up short and right with an 8-iron short and landed in the pond fronting the 18th green.
"Worst shot I’ve hit in a long time," he said.
With Woods bunkered after his second shot from an awkward, downhill lie in the rough, all Johnson hoped to do was get his fourth shot close and tap in for a bogey.
"It was a bit too much too drama at the end there," he told reporters after pocketing the $1 million winner’s share and moving to No. 9 in the world rankings.
Woods, who defeated Johnson in 2011 when he birdied the last two holes, lost in extra frames for the second time at Sherwood. Graeme McDowell came from behind to stun Woods in a dramatic playoff in 2010, but Sunday’s finish was even more sensational.
For Johnson, it was a tremendous turn-around from his last-place World Challenge finish in 2012.
For sure, the Sherwood-record 24,900 fans, who turned out in droves for Woods’ farewell tour of southern California before the tourney moves to Florida in 2014, got their money’s worth. Accounts compared the traffic outside the gates to the gridlock common to Los Angeles freeways.
Johnson, who moved within striking distance of the leader when Woods three-putted on No. 14, seemed rueful after Woods’ par putt on the 73rd hole lipped out.
Tiger waits and waits and waits and misses https://t.co/JOc6SyHO0K— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) December 8, 2013
While the tournament carried world ranking points it was not an official PGA Tour event. But that did not tarnish the accomplishment for the winner.
"Everybody talks about going head-to-head with [Woods]. I mean you want to play with him ... coming down the stretch on a Sunday," Johnson said. "He's the best player that's ever played, in my opinion."