Zach Johnson prides himself on his competitive spirit and he came up with the goods in triumphant style after going head-to-head with Tiger Woods at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, California, on Sunday.
Two shots behind pace-setting Woods at the start of the day, Johnson fell four behind with just eight holes left before making four birdies — along with a spectacular wedge hole-out for par at the last — to take the tournament into a playoff.
Having twice finished second to tournament host Woods in the elite event at Sherwood Country Club, Johnson reversed that position as he parred the first extra hole before Woods surprisingly lipped out from five feet to bogey.
“You want to end the tournament with someone making a putt,” Johnson said after Woods’ miss handed him his second tournament victory of the year. “You don’t want to see it like that, especially when he has hit a really good sand shot.”
Woods had dumped his approach into the front right greenside bunker at the par-four 18th before failing to get up and down to extend the playoff.
“He played great,” Johnson said of the world No. 1, who has won the World Challenge five times. “He didn’t make as many putts as I did. That’s all it really was today.”
Johnson, whose only major victory came at the 2007 Masters, is a medium-length hitter renowned for his brilliant short game and never-say-die attitude.
“I love the competition, I love being in difficult situations and having to execute and that sort of thing,” said the 37-year-old American, a 10-times winner on the PGA Tour. “I know what my talent is, and I know my limitations and I feel like I know my game. So if it’s good enough that week, that day, then great. If it’s not, I’ll just keep working.”
What made Sunday even more special for Johnson was that he was dueling with 14-time major champion Woods, the greatest player of his generation.
“Everybody talks about going head-to-head with him,” Johnson said. “That’s what I want as a competitor. I want to play against the best.”
“I’ve been in it, I don’t know how many times, twice here and a handful of times on Tour. I like playing with him. He’s a friend and he seems to bring out the worst and the best in you, you know,” Johnson added.
Woods expressed bitter-sweet feelings as the limited-field event ended a run of 14 years in California before it shifts to Isleworth Country Club outside Orlando, Florida, next year, but said he will treasure memories of his five previous victories and the US$25 million raised by the tournament for his foundation.
“It is very sad to obviously leave Sherwood because there are so many great memories for me personally,” the world No. 1 told reporters.
“This was the last time my dad ever got a chance to watch me play live and this event has always had special meaning for my father and me,” he said. “Without this event, we wouldn’t be able to build the learning center which we did down in Orange County and over 100,000 kids have now gone through our facilities.”
Woods had been bidding for his sixth tournament victory of the year, but was still able to reflect on a highly successful campaign.
“Pretty damn good year,” said Woods, who won a season-high five times on the PGA Tour before being voted Player of the Year for a record 11th time.