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It's a wedge issue: Zach Johnson stuns Tiger Woods in World Challenge

After hitting into water at No.18, Zach Johnson pitches in from 58 yards to save par, then wins playoff in Woods' annual charity event.

By Jim Peltz

9:13 PM EST, December 8, 2013

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With eight holes left in Tiger Woods' round Sunday, everything was setting up for him to bid a victorious farewell to Southern California.

Woods led by four shots over Zach Johnson in the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, which benefits Woods' charities. This was the 15th edition of the event and the last one at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks before the tournament moves to Florida next year.

But Johnson had other ideas, and after a dramatic turn of events at the 18th hole, Johnson defeated Woods on the first hole of a playoff to win the World Challenge and its $1-million first prize.

"This is as good as it gets," said Johnson, 37, an Iowa native who twice had finished second in the tournament. But he added that there was "a bit too much drama at the end."

Johnson had climbed even with Woods at 13 under par for the tournament when they came to the final hole of regulation, a par four.

Woods, who'd begun the final round with a two-stroke lead, hit his second shot at No. 18 into a bunker in front of the green, seemingly giving the advantage to Johnson. But Johnson promptly gave it back by hitting his approach into a pond in front of the green.

Then, after taking a one-shot penalty, Johnson hit from the drop zone and holed out with a pitching wedge from 58 yards to save par. The crowd surrounding the 18th green erupted and Johnson threw his wedge into the air.

"I'm trying to get somewhere around the hole to make five," Johnson, who shot four-under 68 in the final round, said of the shot from the drop zone. Instead, he added, he got "very lucky."

Woods then blasted out of the trap to within about two feet and made par as well and set up the playoff, a replay of the 18th hole.

This time Johnson made a routine par. Woods hit his approach into the same bunker and blasted out to within five feet. But his putt for par — and to extend the playoff — curled out of the cup, giving the win to Johnson.

It was only the fourth time in his career that Woods failed to win after leading by at least two strokes going into the final round.

Nonetheless, Woods said, "Overall it was a great week for us . . . it was pretty exciting. I think everyone was pretty entertained."

Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar tied for third at nine under par, with Watson shooting a two-under 70 on Sunday and Kuchar a five-under 67. Webb Simpson (68) finished fourth at seven under.

Despite being four shots back with eight holes to play, Johnson said, "I didn't think I was ever out of it."

Indeed, he made four birdies on the back nine to catch Woods, which made Johnson's errant approach on the 18th hole all the more shocking.

"It was just a bad swing — got caught up in the moment," Johnson said. "I mean that was the worst shot I hit all day."

He rebounded with his best shot of the day.

Woods' reaction to seeing Johnson's shot from the drop zone go into the cup? "Whatever happened I had to make four," he said.

"I figured he was going to probably get that up and down for five and I would have to make four either way to win the golf tournament," Woods said.

Woods, the world's top-ranked player, won five PGA Tour events this year. He has also won the World Challenge a record five times.

His primary charity, the Tiger Woods Foundation, announced last month that the World Challenge would move next year to Isleworth Golf & Country Club in Windermere, Fla.

Attendance Sunday was announced as 24,922, a record for any round in 14 years at Sherwood.

james.peltz@latimes.com

Twitter: @PeltzLATimes