But Tiger Woods was forced to give way to the New Zealander Michael Campbell after a disastrous front nine yesterday which included two sevens.
The world's No 1 golfer marched off the course with a scowl on his face, having finished sixth.
The reason for his loss required little explanation. Woods faltered because of poor putting all week, a near meltdown yesterday, and the solid play of Kiwi Campbell.
The New Zealander refused to choke, as Ernie Els did last year, when Woods made a spectacular comeback at the Classic to beat Els in a play- off.
Campbell, who won $215,330 (pounds 135,000), shot a 70 and finished 12-below par, while Geoff Ogilvy of Australia came in second at 11-under. Els of South Africa finished third with a score of 10-under.
Dogged by uninspired putting, Woods was down four strokes going into the final round on a day of bright sunshine and light winds at the Ta Shee Golf and Country Club. Then came the problems.
First, Woods hooked his drive on the sixth hole into the rough and down a gully beside a hedge, an impossible lie that forced him to take a stroke.
"I want all these people out of here," a grumpy Woods told marshals as he charged through the gallery to find his ball. Woods ended up with a double-bogey on the hole, but things became worse only two holes later.
On the eighth, Woods drove into the rough, hit his recovery shot into the water and required three putts, giving him a disastrous triple-bogey.
Campbell's win ended a four-year losing streak for the New Zealander. He moved into the lead on Friday and kept it.
Campbell had not won a tournament since 1995 and finished so poorly in 1996 and 1997 that he did not dare dream of winning again and even considered leaving the game.
"It's just unbelievable. It's been a long frustrating last four years and finally the monkey's off my back," he said.
Though Campbell's approaches and putts were strikingly consistent, his victory never seemed assured until the last few holes.
He has played well in tournaments before, only to finish poorly. He birdied the first two holes, then pocketed another birdie on hole six. But on the seventh hole, the 30-year-old Campbell found himself in a sand trap and took three shots to escape, chalking up a double bogey for the hole. "That was my disaster hole," he said.
With Els and Ogilvy in hot pursuit, Campbell was in a three-way tie for the lead on the 14th hole. Subsequent bogeys by the other two, though, paved the way for victory.
Woods remains the man to beat in golf, Campbell said. "Tiger, he's a freak of nature. I mean, Tiger is so phenomenal it's frightening. The only way we can defeat Tiger is for him to make mistakes," Campbell said.
Ogilvy sank a birdie putt on the 18th hole to finish at 68. "Initially, I was disappointed, I felt I played good enough to maybe have a chance to win," said the 22-year-old from Melbourne.
Els, who won the Classic in 1997, when it was held in Thailand, finished with a 68. The difficult 16th hole bedevilled Els all week, and he bogeyed there again yesterday having double bogeyed the hole the day before. "I guess the 16th (hole) screwed me this week... yesterday I said it was a ridiculous hole and I still say that," Els said.
Vijay Singh notched up a solid round of 68 to finish at 9-under par, followed by the Australian Peter Senior at 8-under par.
At the Taiheiyo Masters in Gotemba, Japan, Britain's Darren Clarke lost to Japan's Hirofumi Miyase on the second play-off hole yesterday. Miyase, starting the day two strokes off the pace, birdied the final hole to force a three-way play-off against Japan's Ryoken Kawagishi and Clarke.
Kawagishi, the overnight leader, bowed out on the first play-off hole and Clarke then missed a par putt on the second hole to surrender victory to Miyase.
Scores, page 11