Graeme McDowell celebrates after what proved to be the winning putt at the Chevron World Challenge.Graeme McDowell spectacularly birdied the 18th hole twice in a row to deny Tiger Woods his first win for more than a year and win the Chevron World Challenge at the first hole of a heart-stopping sudden death play-off.

“It’s the stuff of dreams — 2010 has been the stuff of dreams,” McDowell said.

Woods tweeted: “Really hate losing, Graeme did what he needed to do to win and I didn’t.”

The Ulsterman must surely be regarded as the unofficial World Player of the Year after he followed his US Open and Ryder Cup heroics by snatching his fourth individual win of the season in a dramatic finale at Sherwood Country Club near Los Angeles.

The gutsy 31-year old holed two identical 20 footers in a row on the 18th green to win a cheque for $1.2m and deny tournament host Woods the chance to put a nightmarish personal and professional period behind him with his first victory for more than 12 months.

It was also the first time the former world No 1 had lost a tournament as a pro when leading by at least three shots going into the final round.

Woods began the day four shots clear of McDowell on 17 under par but the game’s fallen idol began nervously and saw his lead reduced to a single shot after just four holes.

Smelling blood in the water, McDowell birdied the second and fourth as Woods bogeyed the opening hole and then followed a birdie at the second by missing a short par putt at the third.

The pair birdied the par-five fifth to leave Woods a shot clear on 17 under par until he racked up a double bogey seven at the par-five 13th.

McDowell birdied there to create a three shot swing and turn a one-stroke deficit into a two-stroke lead.

But in one of the best finishes seeen anywhere this year, the tournament went to a play-off for the first time in its 12-year history with McDowell emerging as a worthy winner.

The reigning US Open champion had bogeyed the 14th to see his advantage cut to a single shot with four holes to play. But just as he did in the Wales Open, the US Open, the Valderrama Andalucia Masters and the final Ryder Cup singles, he answered all the big questions under the severest of pressure.

The first key moment came at the par-three 17th, where McDowell was forced to take a penalty drop from an unplayable lie in knee high grass through the green with Woods just 15 feet away.

A two or three shot swing in Woods’ favour was on the cards but McDowell limited the damage to just one.

Opting to go back in line with the flag and drop behind the green on a high ledge near the 18th tee, he bravely pitched to six feet and after Woods had failed to convert his birdie opportunity, the Irish star drained his bogey putt to leave them tied on 15 under par going down the par-four 18th.

Woods looked certain to secure his first win since last year’s JBWere Australian Masters and his dramatic fall from grace following tawdry revelations about his private life, when he hit a superb cut shot to just three feet and fist pumped triumphantly.

But McDowell is guts personified and after finishing 20 feet left of the pin, he calmly rolled home a putt reminisicent of his 16th hole birdie against Hunter Mahan at Celtic Manor, forcing Woods to hole his three footer to force sudden death.

The Portrush man shot a 69 to Woods’ 73 to leave them locked together on 16 under par. But the drama was only beginning.

Returning to the 18th for the first play-off hole, McDowell clipped a tree but saw his ball kick left and finish in the first cut of rough on the right, from where he again hit his approach 20 feet left of the hole cut on the front portion of the multi-tiered green.

Woods came up 12 feet short of the cup with another wonderful iron shot but McDowell got his retaliation in first by holing for birdie once more.

Woods’ double breaking birdie effort slid by the hole, ending his hopes of extending the play-off and condemning him to his first winless season since he turned professional 14 years ago.

“The ending was I think pretty dramatic for all the fans,” Woods said, adding that he was excited about his game heading into his off-season. “13 was a big swing hole obviously. He picked up three shots there and then he made a couple mistakes coming in.

“I thought 16 was going to be our swing hole, and ended up being a moot point. 17 ended up being the swing hole.  Then 18 in regulation we both hit good shots in there. He made a great putt, I made mine, and we came to the playoff.

“We both hit good shots into the green, and he made another good putt. I hit mine right where I was looking. I just didn’t think it was going to be a double-breaking putt. It went right to left early and then peeled at the end.”

The result sees McDowell leap to a career high seventh in the world as he prepares to wind down his dream year by partnering Darren Clarke in the Shark Shootout in Florida this week.