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Tiger suffers sudden death
- McDowell wins in playoff

Thousand Oaks: Tiger Woods was back on a familiar stage, on Sunday, with one big difference: He was a witness, not a winner.

Graeme McDowell upstaged Woods in the Chevron World Challenge with a performance so typical of his brilliant season. The US Open champion at Pebble Beach, the hero of the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, McDowell came up with another great moment in a year filled with them.

Woods hit an 8-iron to inside 3 feet on the 18th hole at Sherwood for what looked like a sure victory, but McDowell rammed in a 20-foot birdie putt to force a sudden-death playoff.

Then, McDowell made a similar putt from about 25 feet on the same hole in the playoff to win.

“Those are probably two of the greatest putts I’ve made,” McDowell said, pausing to step out of the moment. He made a few good ones at Pebble Beach. There was that 15-foot birdie putt in the Ryder Cup that led to a European victory.

On second thought...

“Holed a couple of nice putts this year,” he continued, smiling. “But they were certainly up there. To play the weekend alongside Tiger, it’s a pretty special feeling to go out there four back and do the job.”

It was an unofficial victory, but still a historic moment.

No one had ever beaten Woods when trailing him by three shots or more going into the final round. It had been 12 years since anyone had topped Woods in a playoff on home soil.

If there was a time for it all to unravel for Woods, it’s only fitting it would be in his final round of a troublesome year. He began the season in an addiction clinic in Mississippi, the fallout of being caught cheating on his wife. In the eight months since he returned to golf, Woods changed swing coaches, was divorced from his wife and never once contended in a tournament.

That changed at his own tournament, on a course where he had won four times. But he ran into the wrong guy.

McDowell has his own reputation as a tough customer down the stretch, and he showed why. Even though his two birdies on the 18th hole made the difference, he might have won this tournament with a bogey.

With a one-shot lead, McDowell pulled his eight-iron into hay so deep that he had to take a one-stroke penalty and find a good place to drop it. He wound up on the 18th tee, and hit a risky chip over the tree to about seven feet. If Woods made his birdie or McDowell missed his putt, Woods would take a one-shot lead to the 18th.

Woods missed. McDowell made.

“It’s just one of those head-scratching moments where you’re thinking, ‘What the hell am I going to do here?’” McDowell said.

“Between myself and my caddie, we worked out the less of two evils. I made the right decision and managed to get it done there and hole a clutch putt, which set up the opportunity in the last.”

McDowell, who closed with a 69 and finished at 16-under 272, won $1.2 million and moved to No. 7 in the world. He won for the fourth time, along with victories in Spain and Wales, and the biggest one up the coast at Pebble Beach. “They’re the kind of putts that you make them, and you can’t really believe it afterward,” McDowell said. “They were the stuff of dreams — 2010 has been the stuff of dreams. It’s been that kind of year.”

To appreciate what kind of year it has been for Woods is to listen to him reflect in the moments after a crushing loss. “It was a great week, even though I didn’t win,” said Woods, who closed with a 73.

He is getting closer to figuring out his new swing, and this week was a good sign. Despite the loss, Woods led after each of the first three rounds. In contention for the first time all year on the back nine, on Sunday, brought back pressure, and Woods invariably slipped into some old swing flaws that cost him dearly. (Agencies)

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