"He got me" - Tiger denied by Zach
Zach Johnson moved into the world's top-10 for the first time thanks to his victory in the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge. Photo: Kenneth E. ennis /  kendennisphoto.com  /  www.golffile.ie

Zach Johnson moved into the world's top-10 for the first time thanks to his victory in the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge. Photo: Kenneth E. ennis / kendennisphoto.com / www.golffile.ie

It was a year of success and failures. A year of disappointments and triumphs. Whether your name is Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy or Graeme McDowell, the 2013 season leaves many questions unanswered.

Where Woods is going is possibly the most fascinating of them all after he once again putted poorly in the final round of a big event — only one player in the 18-man field had more than his 33 putts — and had the $3m Northwestern Mutual World Challenge snatched from his grasp in stunning fashion by Zach Johnson.

Four strokes clear of the Iowa man with eight holes to play, there was a time when Woods would have gone on to win by six. This time, in a finish reminiscent of Graeme McDowell’s late late show at Sherwood Country Club in 2010, he got stuck in neutral and was passed on the line by an inspired Johnson.

Johnson almost holed his third at the 16th to force Woods to chip dead from greenside rough to stay ahead, then almost aced the 17th to draw level.

With his lead reduced to zero strokes with the 72nd hole to play, he looked out for the count when found rough off the tee and bunkered his approach well below the green.

Suddenly, when Johnson horribly shanked his eight iron into the pond, the record 25,000 crowd looked set to hail Woods as the Robin Hood of Sherwood once more.

“It was just bad,” Johnson said of his approach. “Just bad. (Laughs). I mean that was the worst shot I hit all day… It was probably the worst I hit all week.”

“Keep going.”

“Worst shot I've hit in a long time.”

Then later… “I just like to compete and being in those situations where you get into holes have you to execute, you have to hit a shot. And that's just fun, even if you shank it.”

Thanks to the near “shank”, it appeared that the Tiger Woods Foundation would benefit from another $1,000,000 donation by the host. Not quite.

Johnson sensationally holed out from 58 yards from the drop zone for a par-four, his ball hopping twice before spinning back into the cup from an inch of two beyond the hole.

Woods could only smile wryly as he looked on, but came up trumps with a sensational bunker shot to a couple of feet to force a play-off, shooting 70 to Johnson’s 68 as they finished four clear of Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson on 13 under par.

Back to the 18th tee they went but while Johnson found the green in two and two putted for par, Woods again bunkered his second and then lipped out with an awkward, four-foot, left to right slider to stay alive after find a slightly tougher lie in the sand.

Chest bump. Zach Johnson celebrates his dramatic hole out for par. 

Chest bump. Zach Johnson celebrates his dramatic hole out for par. 

“It was pretty impressive what he did on 16, 17 and 18,” Woods said at the the death, ”and he got me.”

It was a thrilling and at the same time, an anti-climactic finish to what the world No 1 described as a “pretty damn good year” in his post round presser.

“Five wins, and you know, on some pretty good venues, so very pleased with the year,” he said.

Still, there were questions about his putting and the string of short putts he missed at the weekend, especially the most crucial one of them all.

“You know, most of the week, except for Friday, I was struggling blocking putts, and today was a perfect example of that. I blocked a lot of putts today and just hadn't had a tough time finding my release point, and I just could not find my release point, no matter what I tried to do to adjust and just wasn't there.

“So the last hole, you know, being left toright and just didn't want to block that one, and I didn't. I overreleased it…

“Putting comes and goes. It is what it is. You have your good days and bad days. Friday [when he shot 62] I made everything, and a couple of these days I made a lot of midrange putts for pars. And today was just one of those days where I just didn't make a lot. Shot 70. Just didn't make a lot.”

Given all he’s achieved, it sounds almost churlish to nit-pick at Woods’ sometimes disappointing weekend play these days, especially in the majors.

As Johnson said afterwards: “There's a reason why to young guys he's their idol. He's their Jack Nicklaus. He's the guy that's paved the way. He's the one that keeps pushing the ceiling higher and higher and he's the one that keeps raising the bar. If he stays healthy hopefully he does there's no telling what he can do.

“The guy never ceases to amaze me. What we witnessed early 2000 through, what, 2007 or something like that was ridiculous. And who's to say he can't do it again… he's the best player that's ever played in my opinion.”

The big positive from the week for Woods was the way he drove the ball with a new Nike driver-shaft combination.

But does he go into the off-season and look to 2014 with even the slightest hint of trepidation?

As world No 1, a five-time winner and the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year title, he probably felt it was a ridiculous question but after initially pointing to his stellar early season record, he said: “Of course there is. I mean I've come off of long breaks. I've come off of surgeries, you know, whatever it may be. I've had my share of off seasons, and I can tell you one thing, I'm looking forward to this one.”

Johnson admitted he felt a little like the man who shot Santa Claus at the end of it all.

Had he ever had an more awkward win?

“Awkward? For me? No.”

Defending champion McDowell finished the season with three straight birdies, carding a 69 to take sixth place on five under par.

It was his best ball-striking round of the week but despite winning three times this year, he had mixed feelings about the season having failed to impress in the majors.

Set for an intensive off-season working on every aspect of his game, he said: “New Year resolutions? Hard work. I’m probably going into this off-season with a bit more energy than normal so I can come out next year for a big year.

“The clubs won’t be put away for very long this Christmas. Big year next year.”

As for McIlroy, the world No 6 closed his season with a tepid bogey five at his final hole, carding closing 70 that left him 11th in the 18-man field on level par.

Reflecting on a year that brought an equipment change, some horrific play until August and no little speculation about his private life and acrimonious break-up with Horizon Sports Management, he said: “It’s been the first year where I have really had to put up with the scrutiny and criticism and I guess you just have to believe in what you are doing and not let it get to you too much.”

Woods and McDowell would concur. There's no point in looking back.