Trailing Tiger Woods by as many as four shots Sunday in the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, Zach Johnson found his form and grabbed a share of the lead on the 71st hole, then won on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff after two roller-coaster passes at Sherwood Country Club’s 18th hole.
Here are 5 Things you need to know about the dramatic ending to the World Challenge’s departing performance in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
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1. ZACH’S WIN: It was all about approach shots late in the round for Zach Johnson – good or bad.
With controlled spin that burned the edges of cups, Johnson hit approach shots to inside 5 feet at the 16th and 17th, making birdie putts to complete a four-shot comeback and join Woods in the lead.
Then he missed badly from the 18th fairway, hitting it into the hazard in front of the green. He played his fourth shot from the drop zone – again hitting a wildly accurate wedge shot that landed behind the cup and spun back to it, falling in for a par that wrapped up a 68, the second-best score carded Sunday.
“Shouldn’t have been in that position, but I’ll learn from it. I didn’t complete my back swing on my second shot, and as a result, miss‑hit it and everything. It was just bad. Just bad,” Johnson said, able to laugh. “I mean that was the worst shot I hit all day. Wasn’t even close to being‑‑ there was no question. It was probably the worst I hit all week.”
And it wasn’t a laughing matter at first.
“Well, I was upset. You know, I mean I had I don’t want to say an awkward yardage, but I had‑‑ I was in between clubs . . .” Johnsobn said of his mindset before hitting the shot that forced the playoff. “So once my ball was in the hazard, my whole process was just, I mean I’m trying to get somewhat around the hole and make a 5. You know, it wasn’t exactly a full‑wedge shot, but it was one that I could be aggressive with. And 58 yards, trying to hit it about 52, 53, and we saw what it did.
Woods found no surprise in the hole-out, though.
“I mean I don’t know how with the last three holes those balls didn’t go in,” Tiger Woods said. “Obviously the one on 18 went in, but 16 looked better than any of the three.”
In the playoff, again at the 18th, Johnson this time found the green and two-putted for par. When Woods bogeyed, the win was Johnson’s.
The victory in extra holes atones for Johnson’s playoff loss at this year’s John Deere Classic, when he and David Hearn lost to rookie of the year Jordan Spieth.
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2. TIGER’S LOSS: Tiger appeared to have put a virtual lock on things early Sunday, a birdie at the second giving him a three-shot lead – one that would not evaporate until Johnson’s birdie at No. 17, where Woods parred.
Poor approach shots in two passes at No. 18 resulted in Woods’ second playoff loss against 11 wins.
“I was stuck right in between clubs, between 7 and 8,” Woods said of the playoff mis-hit. “And that downhill lie, I missed a soft 7 and just let it go on the hill. And I just got one of those half numbers. I was right dead in between clubs and tried to hit a little smoothy in there and just let it go in the wind a little bit.”
A bogey at No. 14, where Woods erred badly on his first of three putts and couldn’t make the long comebacker, was the lone blemish on Woods’ scorecard in regulation. Another bogey on the playoff hole, thanks to a lipped-out putt, gave Johnson the tournament.
Woods had said earlier this week that the World Challenge’s pending move to central Florida would be an “emotional” one. His 62 during Friday’s second round, however, was not enough to secure victory amid his other rounds of 71, 72 and 70 – not to mention a playoff bogey.
“I thought I drove the ball great this week; you know, I found a nice driver this week, and very pleased at the changes that I found in that driver,” Woods said. “And you know, I think the changing the shaft really made a big difference there.”
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3. KUCHAR’S CHARGE: Matt Kuchar played the front nine Sunday in a bogey-free 5 under, with an even-par back nine – after a double bogey at the 10th – helping him tie for third alongside Bubba Watson at 9 under, four back of Johnson and Woods.
Kuchar’s 67, keyed by three straight birdies on Nos. 3-5, was the fourth of the week – behind only Woods’ 62.
After an opening-round 33, the back nine was not kind to Kuchar; he followed that with passes of 35, 39 and 36 – and at least one bogey on that side each day.
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4. DUFNER’S STREAK: What’s one way to card your best round of the week? How about six straight birdies?
That’s what carried reigning PGA Championship victor Jason Dufner to a 69 Sunday, as he birdied Nos. 1-6 after making the turn. Dufner also bogeyed No. 12 and finished with bogeys at Nos. 8-9.
His best round of the week came on the heels of his worst – a 78 Saturday that had included two double bogeys and a triple.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Webb Simpson also shot 68, with six birdies (including three straight at Nos. 6-8) against bogeys at Nos. 2-3; he finished fifth at 7 under. . . . Sunday’s highest rounds were the 74s carded by Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood. . . . Ian Poulter was the day’s best mover, rising three spots with a 69 to finish seventh. . . . Jason Day slid the furthest Sunday, dropping three spots with a 73 to tie for ninth. . . . The final round built a record crowd of 24,000; “They’ve kind of done that most of the years here, if the weather has been good on Sunday, and this was a picture‑perfect day. It was a little bit cool, but people came out and they supported what we’re trying to do, and it’s been fantastic,” Woods said.
– ASAP Sports contributed.