Tiger Woods’s winless drought ended after 749 days yesterday when he birdied the final two holes for a one-shot victory at golf’s Chevron World Challenge.
The 14-time major tournament champion fired a 3-under-par 69 to finish the invitational tournament he hosts at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California, at 10-under-par 278, one shot ahead of third-round leader Zach Johnson. The tournament is not an official PGA Tour event.
“Was I nervous? Absolutely,” Woods, 35, told reporters after his first tournament win since the Australian Masters in November of 2009. “It’s been a while, but also for some reason it feels like it hasn’t.”
Less than two weeks after his last win two years ago, Woods was involved in a single car crash outside his Florida home. The incident led to an admission by Woods of marital infidelity, which triggered his divorce and the loss of corporate sponsors. His record run atop the world rankings ended, and he changed his swing coach and caddie.
Woods birdied the 10th and 11th holes yesterday to take a two-shot lead over Johnson. After a bogey by Woods at the 12th, Johnson, the 2007 Masters Tournament champion, birdied the next hole to leave the pair tied at 8-under with five holes to play.
They remained co-leaders until the par-5 16th hole, where Johnson sank a putt of about 12 feet for birdie.
One hole later, Woods pumped a clenched fist after draining a birdie putt to leave the pair tied at 9-under par.
“That putt was huge,” Woods said. “If I don’t make that putt, we come down to 18 and it’s in Zach’s control.”
At No. 18, where Johnson scored an eagle from the fairway two days ago to take the third-round lead, Woods dropped his approach shot about six feet from the cup. Johnson missed his birdie attempt from about twice that distance and Woods punched the air as his putt disappeared into the cup.
Woods said the win may act as a springboard to the kind of season that Jim Furyk enjoyed the year after winning the Chevron title in 2009. Furyk claimed three PGA Tour events in 2010 and captured the season-long FedEx Cup title.
“I feel pretty good going into next year,” Woods said. “If I have a good year I should be on the ballot for Comeback Player of the Year, so I’m excited about that.”
“He’s going to have a good year,” Johnson, 35, told reporters. “He’s the most experienced and the best player I’ve ever played with. In every situation, he knows how to execute and win.”
Better and Better
In the past three weeks, Woods has finished third at the Australian Open in Sydney and scored the clinching point in the U.S. team’s win at the Presidents Cup in Melbourne the following week.
“Everything was progressing, from playing the exhibition matches right before the Aussie Open, playing the Aussie Open, playing the Presidents Cup,” Woods said. “I got better each and every tournament.”
Woods, who surged in the world rankings after the win to No. 21 from 52nd, almost ended his drought at the Chevron World challenge last year, when he lost in a playoff to Graeme McDowell.
Woods, whose record 281-week stay atop the Official World Golf Ranking ended Nov. 1, 2010, previously won the 18-player event, which benefits his charitable foundation, in 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2007.
During the past two years Woods has also had to contend with injuries, including knee and ankle problems that prevented him from playing in the U.S. and British opens this year. After missing the cut at the PGA Championship, he didn’t play again until October, when he tied for 30th in the Frys.com Open, a lower-profile Fall Series event on the PGA Tour.
“I had to get healthy and to where I was strong and explosive again so I could practice,” he said. “Then my practice sessions started building and building. Then I would play a couple of tournaments here and there, and each tournament I started getting better, starting at the Frys.”
After losing sponsorships with companies including AT&T Inc., Accenture Plc and PepsiCo Inc.’s Gatorade brand, Woods has begun to turn around his off-course interests as well. He agreed in October to endorse luxury watchmaker Rolex Group, his first major endorsement since the scandals, and signed an accord on Nov. 10 with sports nutrition company Fuse Science Inc., which sponsors his golf bag.
In addition to switching to Joe LaCava from longtime caddie Steve Williams this year, Woods has also been working on swing changes with Sean Foley, who replaced Hank Haney as his coach last year. The new moves are beginning to feel more natural, he said.
“I was very committed to each and every shot, whether it was going to end great or not,” Woods said of his play this week. “When I was coming down the stretch there I felt so comfortable.”