Tiger Tracker: Woods wins Chevron by stroke

Tiger Woods celebrates after his birdie putt on the 18th hole to win the Chevron World Challenge.

Tiger Woods celebrates after his birdie putt on the 18th hole to win the Chevron World Challenge.

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Tiger Woods’ head was down and his hands tucked into his pockets as he left Sherwood Country Club’s 16th green. Yes, the Chevron World Challenge is an exhibition, just 18 players competing one last time for a ton of money and world-ranking points before shutting it down for the holidays, but Woods wasn’t taking this one lightly.

Zach Johnson had just holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-5 16th to put Woods one down with two holes remaining. That birdie was the rare highlight on a day that was one for grinding, not giggling.

Woods had two holes to make the fans happy, and he did. The scene surrounding Woods’ quest for his first victory in more than two years was typical. Cars lined up outside Sherwood Country Club more than two hours before Woods’ tee time. Fans were hoping to see this exhibition transformed into a milestone, and only a Woods victory would do that. It’s why they scrambled through dirt and over hills, climbed rocks and sprinted down cart paths, all to catch a glimpse of Woods’ potential return to the winner’s circle.

Two holes, two 9-irons and two clutch putts later, they got what they wanted. Woods hit a hard 9-iron from 172 yards on the par-3 17th, then sank a 15-foot birdie putt after Johnson had missed from a similar distance. A stinger 3-iron off the 18th tee set up another 9-iron shot, this one from 158 yards, on Sherwood’s final hole.

Woods watched his ball in mid-air, then walked down the fairway, both hands holding the club chest high, perpendicular to the ground. His ball landed inside Johnson’s, which came to rest about 12 feet from the hole.

We’d seen a similar scene here last year. Woods knocked his approach to Sherwood’s 18th to 3 feet, only to watch Graeme McDowell hole a 20-footer to force a playoff, then win with a similar-length putt on the next hole. This year would be different.

There were both gasps and cheers when Johnson missed his birdie putt. Some lamented Johnson’s failed attempt. Most were eager for the result that was just moments away, the win that would end a two-year drought that must’ve seemed interminable to Woods. He holed his 8-foot putt for a final-round 69 and a one-shot victory over Johnson. Woods finished at 10-under 278 (69-67-73-69).

“It feels awesome, whatever it is,” Woods said, when asked how the win felt.

There haven’t been many highlights since Woods’ personal life unraveled in late 2009, but his play of late clearly has signaled a return to form. Just last month he held the 36-hole lead at the Australian Open -- he eventually finished third -- and performed well individually at the Presidents Cup.

The World Challenge represented Woods’ 83rd title worldwide, but it was his first victory in the U.S. since September 2009.

“It feels great,” Woods said. “To go basically head-to-head against Zach all day, it was just a bunch of fun for both of us.”

Woods, who won’t play another event until next month, moved to No. 21 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He entered the week at No. 52.

Here is our shot-by-shot tracker from Sunday:

• • •

Hole 18: Par 4, 444 yards

Tiger pulls iron and hits his stinger right down the middle of the fairway. Johnson pulls driver and hits a tree on the right, but it kicks back into the fairway.

Playing first, Johnson puts it hole high and will have a downhill putt for birdie from about 10 feet. Playing from 158 yards, Tiger gets inside of Johnson and might get a read from Johnson's putt.

Johnson misses his putt on the low side and taps in for a par.

From about eight feet, Tiger drains the putt and ends his two-year winless drought.

Through No. 18: 10 under (3 under for the day)

• • •

Hole 17: Par 3, 166 yards

Johnson plays a nice shot to under the hole and will have a shot at birdie, while Tiger takes 9-iron and gets inside of Johnson.

Johnson finds the line, but it slides past on the outside and he taps in for a par.

Tiger drains his birdie putt and there is now a tie going to the 18th tee box.

Through No. 17: 9 under (2 under for the day)

• • •

Hole 16: Par 5, 567 yards

Johnson pulls 3-wood and puts it on the right side of the fairway, while Tiger plays iron and also puts it the fairway, about 20 yards behind Johnson.

Tiger decides to lay up, and puts it right in front of the hazard and will have 81 yards to the hole on his third shot.

Johnson does the same, a bit further back than Tiger.

In a battle of wedges, Johnson puts his third shot pin high and about eight feet from the cup. Tiger comes up short and will have an uphill putt for birdie. Tiger doesn't play enough break and settles for a par. Johnson doesn't miss and takes a one-shot lead headed to the last two holes.

Through No. 16: 8 under (1 under for the day)

• • •

Hole 15: Par 3, 189 yards

With water and rocks lining the front of the green, Johnson just carries the green and will have a long putt to the right-side pin location. With a 7-iron, Tiger is also safely on the green, significantly closer than Johnson.

Johnson thumps his putt from more than 50 feet and it rolls past on the left. Tiger is more timid with his putt, leaving it three feet under the hole. Both players make par and move to the 16th knotted at 8 under.

Through No. 15: 8 under (1 under for the day)

• • •

Hole 14: Par 4, 455 yards

Johnson finds the left rough off the tee, playing too much of a right-to-left hook with driver. Tiger pulls 3-wood and it hits the middle the fairway and rolls onto the left side.

A nice second shot from Tiger leaves him about 15 feet under the hole. Johnson had to punch from under a tree and puts it on the left of the long green, at least 60 feet from the hole.

After studying his long putt, Johnson motions to his caddie to bring him his wedge - although he is on the green. And it works perfectly, as he puts it above the hole with about three feet coming back. He makes it for a nice par.

Tiger's birdie putt breaks under the hole and he taps in for par to stay tied with Johnson at 8 under.

Through No. 14: 8 under (1 under for the day)

• • •

Hole 13: Par 5, 568 yards

Using 3-wood off the tee, Tiger smacks it into the middle of the fairway. Johnson also finds the fairway as they enter the final six holes of the tournament.

Johnson chooses to go for it with his second shot with a 3-wood, and it comes up short and in the rough in front of the green.

Tiger has 252 with his second shot, but comes up short and will have a pitch to the flag in the back of the green. His third shot comes up six feet short of the pin and he had plenty of work to do to pick up another birdie. He misses and taps in for par.

Johnson pitches behind the hole and had 10 feet for birdie. He makes it to move to 8 under and ties Tiger at the top of the leaderboard.

Through No. 13: 8 under (1 under for the day)

• • •

Hole 12: Par 3, 190 yards

Tiger pulls his 6-iron off the tee and it finds a greenside bunker, leaving him upset back on the tee. Johnson finds the green, but has a long putt up the hill for birdie.

Tiger gets a good lie in the bunker, but has to take it to the left of the hole and will have 15 feet for his par. The putt hits the edge, but gets past and Tiger picks up his second bogey of the day.

Johnson's pace on his long birdie putt is good and he'll have three feet for par. He makes it and cuts Tiger's lead to one.

Through No. 12: 8 under (1 under for the day)

• • •

Hole 11: Par 5, 517 yards

Tiger takes driver and hammers it down the right side of the fairway, with it leaking out into the first cut of rough. Johnson also uses driver and finds the left side of the fairway.

From 228 yards uphill for his approach, Johnson uses 3-wood and it catches the bunker in the front of the green.

Tiger just gets over that bunker with a 200-yard approach shot, and it squirms out of the rough and onto the lower part of the green, leaving a long eagle putt.

Johnson's second shot buried in the sand and he has to pound the ball just to get it out on his third. The ball does get out, but settles in the long rough in front of the bunker. His fourth shot - a chip - gives him a 4-foot bender for par. He makes it for a par.

Tiger's eagle putt from 45 feet had eyes for the hole, but it slides by on the left and stops three feet behind the hole. He makes it and extends his lead to two shots.

Through No. 11: 9 under (2 under for the day)

• • •

Hole No. 10: Par 4, 359 yards

Johnson finds the fairway on the right side, and Tiger uses iron and misses the fairway with his popular "stinger."

From 125 yards, Tiger hits a fantastic shot, hitting it just on the green and it rolls right in front of the cup, about three feet away for birdie. The putt had some movement to it, but he firmly hits it and picks up a birdie and takes a one-shot lead.

Johnson goes after the pin too, but puts too much backspin on it and it stops about 40 feet from the hole. He two-putts and settles for a par.

Through No. 10: 8 under (1 under for the day)

• • •

Hole No. 9: Par 4, 422 yards

Tiger and Johnson both hit the fairway with their tee shots, with Woods using another iron.

From 196 yards and into the wind, Tiger hits a nice approach shot, with the ball kicking off the left and to within 15 feet for birdie. Johnson flies the green and it rolls into the back rough.

Johnson's chip runs past the hole and he drains the comebacker, while Tiger doesn't play enough break on his birdie putt and settles for a par.

At the turn, the final group remains tied atop the leaderboard at 7 under, four clear of everyone else in the field.

Through No. 9: 7 under (Even-par for the day)

• • •

Hole No. 8: Par 3, 228 yards

Johnson comes up short with his tee shot and will have a chip out of the rough for his second shot. Tiger pulls his tee shot above a greenside bunker, flipping his club immediately after hitting the tee ball.

In an awkward stance, Tiger pitches and tries to use the back of the green to have it funnel back to the hole, but it rolls off the side of the green. Using putter, the ball hops out of the fringe and it fades an inch to the right and Tiger picks up his first bogey of the day.

Johnson, of an uphill lie in the rough, throws his second shot past the hole and it doesn't funnel back. He also misses his par putt and taps in for a par to remain tied with Woods, now at 7 under.

Through No. 8: 7 under (Even-par for the day)

• • •

Hole No. 7: Par 4, 446 yards

Tiger uses driver off the tee and is in the fairway on the left, about 140 yards from the pin. He gets over the ridge in the green with his approach, but has about 35 feet for birdie.

Johnson hits his second shot from just on the rough in front of a mound of rocks in the middle of the fairway, and puts his approach shot on the back shelf, about 30 feet from the hole.

Tiger's birdie putt comes close, but settles for a tap-in par. Johnson picks up the right line, but it stops an inch in front of the cup and he too settles for a par.

They remain tied at 8 under, five clear of anyone else in the field.

Through No. 7: 8 under (1 under for the day)

• • •

Hole No. 6: Par 4, 422 yards

Johnson hits another fairway with his tee ball, while Tiger uses 3-wood to also split the fairway.

With 165 yards left to the hole, Tiger puts it safely on, but has a long putt for birdie. Johnson comes up short with his approach shot, hitting the mound in front of the pin and it funnels back down near the bottom of the green.

Both players get in with two putts and remain tied at 8 under.

Through No. 6: 8 under (1 under for the day)

• • •

Hole No. 5: Par 5, 531 yards

Taking driver off the tee, Tiger hammers a drive and it goes left and through a bunker, settling in the rough. Johnson also hooks it left and both players will be playing out of the rough.

Johnson hits the tree in front of him on a shot he was simply trying to push down the fairway and will face a long third shot.

Tiger fails to put the pressure on, hitting a shot he was trying to hook and it stays right and will be playing his third from trouble.

From 186 yards, Johnson puts his third shot to within five feet, using the slope on the back of the green to bring the ball back to the hole. Johnson makes his birdie putt and Tiger two putts from 30 feet for par, leaving them tied again atop the leaderboard.

Through No. 5: 8 under (1 under for the day)

Elsewhere on the course: Matt Kuchar drops back to 4 under with a bogey at No. 6, while K.J. Choi birdies No. 6 to move to 5 under.

• • •

From Golfweek's Sean Martin, on the course

Tiger's taken the lead, but it's been a grind. He had to lay up on the short par-5 second hole after driving in the rough, making birdie after a wedge to 4 feet. There was a sand save at No. 3 and two-putt fro 40 feet at the fourth. There's been a lot of anxious moments, though, with Woods leaning on the club shaft while the ball is airborne. Controlling his emotions will be key, which Woods has done well. Woods admonished himself silently after his tee shot at the fourth, but that's all. He's obviously frustrated, though.

• • •

Hole No. 4: Par 4, 456 yards

With the honors off the tee, Tiger takes 3-wood and it lands right in the middle of the fairway. Johnson chooses to take driver and he also splits the fairway.

Woods, sitting 209 yards from the hole, hits the very front of the green with his approach shot and will have a long putt for birdie.

From 177 yards, Johnson hits the front of the green and it rolls back off and he'll have a long putt from off the green for a birdie. The putt slides past on the left and he leaves himself four feet for par. He misses and drops another stroke.

With perfect speed, Tiger's birdie putt settles on the lip of the cup and he picks up a par. Tiger is now in the lead by himself, one shot better than Johnson.

Through No. 4: 8 under (1 under for the day)

Elsewhere on the course: Matt Kuchar birdied No. 5 to move to 5 under, three back of the leaders.

• • •

Hole No. 3: Par 3, 198 yards

Using 6-iron, Johnson pulls his tee shot off the green and will have a realistic shot to get up-and-down. Tiger also uses 6-iron, and he goes after the pin, but it finds the bunker and he'll have a difficult up-and-down on the short side.

Johnson pitches well past the hole and will have at least 12 feet to save par. His par putt slides well past on the left and he knocks in a three-foot bogey putt to drop to 8 under.

Tiger hits a fantastic bunker shot and will have two feet for par. He makes it and is now tied with Johnson atop the leaderboard.

Through No. 3: 8 under (1 under on the day)

• • •

Hole No. 2: Par 5, 531 yards

Using driver, Johnson hits the center of the fairway and will be able to go after the green in two. Also using driver, Tiger hits the right side of the fairway, but it runs through and disappears into the long rough.

From the hazard, Tiger has to punch out with his second shot, but was able to advance it about 100 yards and will have a wedge into the green.

With 240 yards left for Johnson's second shot, he plays a fantastic shot and will have a 20-foot eagle putt.

Tiger's third shot - from just over 100 yards - stops about three feet beyond the hole and he'll have a good shot at birdie. He drains it to move to 8 under.

Putting through the shadows, Johnson's eagle putt drifts left, but knocks in a two-footer for birdie to keep his one-shot lead.

Through No. 2: 8 under (1 under for the day)

Elsewhere on the course: It stays a three-golfer race, as K.J. Choi rebounded from an opening bogey with a birdie on No. 2 to stay at 5 under.

• • •

Hole No. 1: Par 4, 342 yards

The weather is a bit calmer than Saturday, with weather.com calling for a high of 60 degrees at the par-72 Sherwood Country Club, with winds up to 18 mph out of the northeast.

Second off the tee, Tiger takes iron and it hooks left and hits a tree, but it bounds toward the fairway and gets caught up in the rough. Johnson uses 3-wood and puts it on the right side of the fairway.

From only 97 yards to the hole, Tiger takes it high and right at the hole, where it lands and sticks about 10 feet from the hole. Playing from 87 yards and in the middle of the fairway, Johnson flies it over the pin and will have a lengthy putt for birdie.

Johnson comes up short on his putt and he taps in for an opening par. Facing a left-to-right bending putt, Tiger misses his birdie putt and also taps in for a par.

Through No. 1: 7 under (Even-par for the day)

• • •

Tiger isn't just playing for his first title in two years, he is also playing to pick up more exemptions in 2012. Our Sean Martin, who will be trailing Tiger all day and can be followed on Twitter here, had this report from Thousand Oaks this morning:

Tiger Woods’ play at the Chevron World Challenge has the golf world wondering if he can return to the PGA Tour winner’s circle in 2012. A high finish Sunday at Chevron all but ensures he’ll return to two events where he’s had success.

Woods, who currently ranks 52nd in the Official World Golf Ranking, would leap to approximately 22nd with a win Sunday. He’ll rank approximately 30th if he finishes second. Woods would move to approximately 36th in the world if he finishes third at Chevron. Exact rankings can't be determined until the end of Sunday's play.

Woods begin the final round at Sherwood Country Club at 7-under 209. Zach Johnson is one shot ahead of Woods after Johnson holed his approach to the final hole Saturday for an eagle-2. Woods is two shots ahead of third-place K.J. Choi and four shots in front of three players tied for fourth – Gary Woodland, Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar.

Why is that important?

A high finish guarantees Woods will earn a spot in the WGC-Accenture Match Play, which he has won three times, and virtually ensures his spot in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, a course which he’s won on a handful of times.

For more on his 2012 schedule, click here.

In case you missed Saturday's round, click here for our hole-by-hole breakdown from Tiger's 1-over 73.

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