THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Heading into the final round Sunday at the Chevron World Challenge, Tiger Woods had history on his side.
He had never lost a tournament – exhibition or otherwise – when leading by three or more shots on the final day.
But history didn’t stand a chance against the performance that Graeme McDowell gave at Sherwood Country Club.
McDowell, the U.S. Open champion, capped his best career year by outdueling Woods in a playoff on a day where the Northern Irishman started four shots back.
McDowell holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole to force the playoff, then made another long birdie putt to deny Woods a victory in his final tournament of the year.
“2010 has been the stuff of dreams,” McDowell said.
Woods, despite losing a four-shot lead, still was poised to end a turbulent year with a victory in his final event. Tied for the lead playing the 18th hole, he stuffed an 8-iron inside 3 feet for a sure birdie. It was vintage Woods – the kind of magic he has delivered so often in his career.
But it wasn’t the same old outcome.
McDowell, with his own reputation as a tough closer, stayed in the game on the 17th by taking a penalty drop on the 18th tee and escaping with bogey. Then after Woods’ great shot, McDowell answered with an all-or-nothing birdie putt.
In the playoff on the same hole, McDowell coaxed in another birdie putt from about 25 feet. Woods had about 15 feet to extend the playoff, but his putt missed just right of the cup.
“Probably two of the great putts I’ve made,” McDowell said.
It was perhaps the first time Woods has lost an event and felt good about himself.
“It was a great week, even though I didn’t win,” Woods said. “I’m proud of the way I played today, even though I lost.”
Indeed, it was the first time this year that Woods played like the No. 1 player of old. He opened with three rounds in the 60s, the first time since the 2009 PGA Championship that he led after the first three rounds.
But he three-putted twice for bogey early in his round, lost the lead with a double bogey on the par-5 13th, then rallied to give himself a chance to win when McDowell paid for a few bad shots.
Ultimately, it was great theater. And for the first time all year, it included Woods.
“He will be back to winning tournaments very soon,” McDowell said.
Associated Press contributed to this report.