From Brian Keogh in Dubai
Tiger Woods produced a trademark back nine charge to card a seven under par 65 and snatch the Dubai Desert Classic with a stroke to spare at the Emirates Golf Club.
The world No 1 stormed home in six under par 31 to get to 14 under par and looked on as South African Ernie Els failed to respond and take his fourth victory in the event.
Needing a birdie at the par-five 18th to force a play-off with Woods, Els had to settle for third place with compatriot Louis Oosthuizen after dumping five-wood approach in the lake fronting the green.
Germany’s Martin Kaymer, the reigning “Rookie of the Year” and winner of the Abu Dhabi Championship two weeks ago, took second place on his own on 13-under par after a closing 66 that featured a spectacular eagle three at the last.
After a closing bogey six, Els signed for a 71 that left him tied with Oosthuizen (66) on 12 under par and wondering just what he has to do to get the better of 13-time major winner Woods.
It was Woods’ seventh victory in eight tournament appearances since August last year. But it contrast to his eight-stroke win in last week’s Buick Invitational, the game’s leading player had to work hard for his 82nd worldwide win.
“I told Stevie if we shoot 30 in this back nine, we’ll probably be in a play-off,” said Woods, who was forced to play for the entire week with his back-up driver after cracking the face of his favourite model in Wednesday’s pro-am. “I shot 31 and it just happened to be enough.
“I got right back in the mix of the tournament. I was four back and I birdied three of the first four and next thing you know I bogey two holes and I played myself right out of it.
“And then I had to go out on the back nine and shoot something low to get back in the tournament again and all off a sudden, I looked up and Ernie had made a couple of mistakes. He rectified with back-to-back birdies but those mistakes gave me a chance, if I could somehow produce the 30 I was looking for.”
Asked whether a one-stoke win was as satisfying as winning by eight strokes, Woods smiled and said: “I like seven or eight a lot more. It’s less stressful.”
The world No 1 went to the turn in two under par 34 after mixing birdies at the first, third and fourth with bogeys at the sixth and ninth.
But he caught fire on the way home to catch and pass Els with the lowest back nine return of the week.
After a birdie at the 10th he then made three in a row from the 12th, chipping in from heavy bermuda roughand then holing putts of five and 15 feet to get to 12 under par.
At the 359-yard 17th he smashed a massive drive through the green and after chipping seven feet past the hole, he drained the putt for his eighth birdie of the day.
The finish was even more spectacular - and difficult - after his approach came up inches short of the back bunker and left him with one foot in the sand for his pitch.
Worried about pitching downhill towards the water, Woods came up 30 feet short but drained the putt in the front door and unleashed his trademark fist pump.
Playing in the final group, four matches ahead of Woods and Damien McGrane, Els confessed that the tournament got away from him when he failed to sink a four-foot par putt at the 11th and a five footer for another par at the long par-four 12th.
“Those putts really cost me the tournament in the end,” said a disappointed Els afterwards. “The second shot to 18, it was right where I hit it but a gust caught it in the air and it didn’t have much of a chance in the end.”