Tiger Woods blasts out of a sand trap at the third green on Sunday during the… (Danny Moloshok / Associated…)
Let's first get the caveats out of the way:
No, the Chevron World Challenge is not a regular PGA Tour event. But it is effectively Tiger Woods' tournament; it was established to benefit his charities, and he is the host.
Yes, there are only 18 players in the field, albeit very good ones. Yes, Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks is friendly terrain for Woods — he had already won the event four times.
Even so, for the first time since Woods' life and career began careening out of control two years ago with a Thanksgiving night car accident in front of his Florida home, the player many consider the greatest golfer in history can finally say he has won another tournament.
Woods made a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday and defeated Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, by one shot to win his fifth Chevron World Challenge title.
"It feels awesome," said Woods, who wore his signature final-round red shirt underneath a sleeveless black sweater. "I played well all week."
Woods, in fact, birdied the last two holes in pulling off the win; Johnson held a one-shot lead as the two, playing together, teed off on the 17th hole.
For Woods, who turns 36 on Dec. 30, it was his first victory since the Australian Masters on Nov. 15, 2009.
Less than two weeks after that win, Woods' car accident unspooled a scandal of extramarital affairs that made international headlines, prompted him to remain in seclusion and skip his charity tournament that year and later caused an exodus of many of Woods' sponsors.
Woods eventually returned to golf, and he finished second in the Chevron World Challenge a year ago after losing in a playoff to Graeme McDowell.
But his progress toward becoming the Tiger Woods of old, the one who won 71 PGA Tour tournaments — including 14 majors — was impeded by knee and Achilles' tendon injuries and the struggles of adapting to a new swing. Once the perennial No. 1-ranked player, Woods had dropped to 52nd in the world rankings.
In recent weeks, though, Woods' play and confidence steadily had improved, and now he has a win to validate the effort.
"I know it's been a while [since winning], but also for some reason it feels like it hasn't," Woods said.
"When I was coming down the stretch there I felt so comfortable," he said. "When the pressure was on the last two holes, I hit three of the best shots I hit all week."
Woods and Johnson were tied after the first nine holes Sunday, and by then it was a two-man tournament as most other contenders faded.
Woods grabbed a two-shot advantage with birdies at the 10th and 11 holes. But he gave one shot back on the par-three 12th when he pulled a six-iron shot into a bunker — "the only really bad shot I hit all day," he said — and made bogey.
Johnson pulled even again with a birdie at No. 13, then seized the lead with another birdie at the par-five 16th hole.
On the par-three 17th, Woods made a 12-foot birdie putt, again tying Johnson and setting up the dramatics at the par-four 18th. Johnson also had a birdie putt at 18, of about 16 feet, but it did not drop.
"Overall, I'm not disappointed in my performance or my approach," said Johnson, who has not won a tournament since May 2010. "Obviously [Woods] just did a little bit better of a job."
Paul Casey, who shot a horrendous first-round 79, rebounded and finished third at five under after a 69 on Sunday.
Matt Kuchar (71) and Hunter Mahan (71) were tied for fourth at four under. First-round leader K.J. Choi shot six-over 78 and finished the event at one over par.
After winning again at Sherwood, a course designed by Jack Nicklaus, Woods goes back to chasing Nicklaus' record of 18 major tournament championships and otherwise regaining his form on the PGA Tour.
"He's going to have a good year" in 2012, Johnson predicted. "I mean, he's the most experienced and the best player I've ever played with."
Woods is scheduled to open next season at a tournament in Abu Dhabi in late January. For now, though, he said he plans to rest.
"I've pushed pretty hard" in recent weeks and "my mind and my body are wanting a little bit of a break," Woods said. "I want to shut it down for a couple weeks and just kind of unwind, and then start gearing back up for next year."