THOUSAND OAKS, California (Reuters) - Tournament host Tiger Woods was denied a sixth win of the year in sensational fashion when he lost the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in a playoff with Zach Johnson at Sherwood Country Club on Sunday.
Johnson, who had twice finished second to fellow American Woods at this elite limited-field event, sealed victory with a rock-solid par at the 18th, the first extra hole, where Woods lipped out with a five-footer to bogey.
The duo had finished regulation amid high drama and sharp swings of fortune on 13-under 275, Woods parring the last for a two-under 70 and Johnson, who came from four strokes behind with four birdies in the last eight holes, closing with a 68.
“It was a bit too much drama at the end there,” a beaming Johnson told reporters after earning the winner’s cheque for $1 million. “I feel very fortunate and somewhat lucky to be sitting here as a champion.”
Tied for the lead at 13 under, Johnson appeared to have the title firmly in his grasp in regulation when five-times champion Woods, from the left rough at the 18th, dumped his approach into a greenside bunker.
However Johnson, perfectly positioned in the fairway, stunningly found water with his second, took a penalty drop and then holed out from 58 yards in the fairway for a par four as the galleries erupted in deafening celebration.
“It was just a bad swing and I got caught up in the moment,” Johnson said of his poor approach from the 18th fairway. “That was the worst shot I hit all day ... probably the worst I hit all week.
“Certainly the next shot was a little too dramatic for me, but I was very lucky to hit that one in.”
Woods did well to get up and down from the bunker to take the tournament into a playoff, but was unable to repeat the feat from a similar position in the same bunker on the first extra hole.
“I hit another really good bunker shot and didn’t have as good a lie the second time around,” world number one Woods said of the first extra hole. “It came out great.
“The putt (for par), I’ve been blocking them all day, and then with that little left-to-righter, I didn’t block that one.
“Pretty impressive what he did,” Woods said of Johnson’s form down the stretch. “Excluding that last shot on 18 in regulation, he really hit it well coming in with three good approach shots.”
Bubba Watson, the 2012 Masters champion, closed with a 70 to share third place at nine under with fellow American Matt Kuchar, who piled up eight birdies, a bogey and a double in a 67.
Defending champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, who also triumphed here in 2010, signed off with a 69 to finish alone in sixth at five under.
Two ahead of the chasing pack overnight after grinding out a 72 in difficult scoring conditions on Saturday, Woods appeared to be in cruise control as he stretched his lead to three with a two-putt birdie at the par-five second.
He also birdied the par-five fifth, after reaching the green in two, but remained three ahead as his playing partner Johnson also birdied the hole.
As the afternoon sunshine brightened, Woods then missed makeable birdie putts from six feet at the sixth and from 10 feet at the ninth to reach the turn in two-under 34 with a three-stroke cushion.
Woods was briefly handed a four-shot advantage when Johnson bogeyed the 10th after his approach landed on the green before spinning back down the hill.
However, Johnson immediately recovered with birdies at the par-five 11th and, from long range, at the par-three 12th to cut the lead to just two shots.
Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, missed a birdie attempt from eight feet at the 13th but one hole later the tension heightened as he trailed by only one after Woods recorded a three-putt bogey.
Both players birdied the par-five 16th, Johnson after very nearly spinning back a wedge approach into the hole and Woods with a delicate flop shot from greenside rough to two feet before the tournament concluded in unexpectedly dramatic style.
There was a record tournament attendance of 24,922 on Sunday at Sherwood Country Club where the event ended a run of 14 successive years. It will shift to Florida next December.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry