After running to a commanding lead with a second-round 62 and holding steady at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, it looked like Tiger Woods‘s tournament to lose.
When the opportunity presented itself, Zach Johnson stepped up and made sure that’s precisely what happened.
Woods, to his credit, had a solid enough final round. With two front-nine birdies, the world’s No. 1 player had actually opened a four stroke lead over Johnson, but he couldn’t quite shake him off. Johnson ran off four birdies following a bogey on the tenth hole, and the duo went to the 18th tee all square.
That was where the true drama began. When Johnson hit his approach shot into the water short of the green, it looked like all Woods would have to do was make par to win. Simple enough right? Except for what happened next.
Woods hit his own approach shot into the greenside bunker – a place that would haunt him a little later. Then Johnson hit one of the best shots of his career, hitting a high, soft wedge into the green, running it a foot past the hole and watching it turn around, almost as though it was drawn into the cup.
Although Woods got up and down to force the playoff, it would only prolong Johnson’s run to the eventual victory. When they replayed the 18th, Woods found himself in the bunker again. He got out well enough, but the putter that had been the only thing holding him back all week came back to haunt him, and when the putt lipped out, Johnson took the title.
Even though it won’t count for an official PGA Tour win, Johnson showed that he hasn’t lost any of the form that saw him run off seven top-ten finishes in the last eight tournaments of 2013. His level-par 72 in the third round here was his highest score in his last three tournaments, and it’s still a big deal that he stared down Tiger Woods at his own tournament and won.
Johnson was on the verge of winning several times in 2013 before he finally captured the BMW Championship in September’s FedEx Cup playoffs. If anything, the winter break coming up before the “official” start of the season in Hawaii should allow him to recharge his batteries, and I’d be surprised if we didn’t see Johnson hoisting another trophy early in the new year.