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Woods wins Target Challenge, puts spring in his 'baby steps'


THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - Tiger Woods is back. Now say goodbye to him until next year.

It might not have been his year, but yesterday wasn't so bad for Woods, not if you count winning $1.25 million, which he donated to his charitable fund, and ending the season with a victory in his tournament.

Woods, who did not win a PGA Tour event after late February and lost his five-year grip on Player of the Year to Vijay Singh, set himself up for what may be a comeback, if that's what you call it, with a rousing 66 and a two-shot victory over Padraig Harrington in the $5.4 million Target World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club.

"It's just so exciting that the things I've been working on are starting to come together," said Woods, who was handed the trophy by his father, Earl, in a ceremony on the green.

For Woods, who won his second straight stroke-play event, it was a rewarding conclusion to a year in which he struggled with changing his swing, endured weekly scrutiny of what he was up to and ended the year ranked something other than No. 1 for the first time since 1997.

When he showed up for the tournament, Woods said he was confident his swing changes were paying off and he finished strongly, shooting in the 60s in 10 of his last 12 competitive rounds, beginning with the Tour Championship.

Harrington said he noticed something different with Woods at the World Challenge.

"It looks like he's worked on the right things," Harrington said. "He seems to really be getting it back."

Woods began reshaping his swing in the spring and not until lately was he able to carry over to the course the success he found on the range.

All year, Woods said he would take "baby steps" of improvement, even if his results didn't necessarily show it.

He said the middle two rounds of the Tour Championship, when he shot 64-65, were proof to him that he was nearly where he wanted to be.

"It was frustrating because I knew it was in me. I knew I could do it," he said.

Harrington, who began yesterday four shots behind third-round leader Colin Montgomerie, wound up with a 66 and a bogey-birdie-bogey finish but still earned $750,000.

"A win would have been a good Christmas present," Harrington said.

There were no gifts for Montgomerie, who lost his lead to Woods after the second hole, shot a 71 and finished tied for third with Jay Haas, who had a 69, three shots behind Woods.

European PGA Dunhill Championship: South Africa's Charl Schwartzel won in Malelane, South Africa, for his first European tour title, recovering from a poor finish in regulation to win the first playoff hole against England's Neil Cheetham.

Schwartzel closed with a 1-under 71. Cheetham, the third-round leader, shot a 73, leaving both players at 7-under 281.

Australian Masters: Australian left-hander Richard Green won in Melbourne, making a 3-foot birdie putt on the first hole of a playoff with countrymen Greg Chalmers and David McKenzie.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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