Jim Furyk ended his season with a first victory in 28 months as he held off a strong European effort to win the Chevron World Challenge in California last night, leaving him to hoist a trophy that immediately reminded one and all of the man-who-wasn't-there.
The American Ryder Cup star saved his best until last, shooting a closing, five-under-par 67 to reach 13 under and win the 18-player tournament at Sherwood Country Club near Los Angeles. Tiger Woods had withdrawn from the event he hosts last Monday in the wake of the media storm and lurid revelations that had followed his car crash outside his Florida home three days previously.
Graeme McDowell proved to be the lucky benefactor of Woods' strife as he earned a last-minute invitation as the world No 1's replacement in the tournament and the Northern Irishman took second place, a shot behind Furyk. Ireland's Padraig Harrington and European No 1 Lee Westwood claimed a tie for third a further stroke away from Furyk on 11 under, while Ian Poulter was in a four-way tie for fifth on nine under.
Furyk had started the day at eight under, two shots behind overnight leaders McDowell and Y E Yang of Korea. He was leading at 12 under with two holes to play but found the large bunker in front of the par-three 17th and was staring at bogey when he laid up on the large green. The American had other ideas and sank the long par putt to stay in the lead.
Westwood birdied the 17th for a share of the lead at 12 under only for Furyk to then birdie the last for a second consecutive, five-under-par 67 to move back into the outright lead at 13 under. In the final group, McDowell had birdied the 16th to get to 11 under but missed a birdie opportunity on 17, leaving Westwood with the most realistic chance of catching Furyk.
The Englishman, needing a birdie to tie, left his second shot pushed up against the right fringe of the green. Needing to hope out to force a play-off, Westwood caught a break when he asked for a ruling on an unplayable stance caused by a recessed sprinkler head and after a lengthy discussion with an official won a drop. That left him still up against the longer grass and able to putt instead of chip, but he pushed his effort wide and left with a short par putt, he missed and had to settle for a 70 at 11 under.
That left McDowell as the only man left able to tie with Furyk and he nearly pulled it off, sending his second shot to within two feet of the hole. It was not enough, however, to prevent Furyk picking up his first win of the year.
Overnight co-leader Yang, the US PGA champion, fell away with a two-over 74 to finish on eight under while England's Paul Casey finally shook off the rust after more than three months suffering with a rib injury to shoot the low round of the week, a 64, to finish on six under par.
*The Australian Robert Allenby ended four years without a win in South Africa yesterday, beating defending champion Henrik Stenson at the third extra hole of a play-off in the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City. The pair both picked up bogeys at the closing hole to finish on the 11-under-par mark of 277 and then parred the 502-yard 18th twice before Swede Stenson bogeyed it again. It was Allenby's first success since his 2005 hat-trick of Australian Open, PGA and Masters titles.
Woods' caddie pledges to stay in 'marriage'
Steve Williams, bag-carrier to Tiger Woods for 10 years, chose an unfortunate analogy at the weekend when explaining his continued fidelity to his employer, despite the world's No 1 golfer's philanderings.
"That's what friends are for," Williams said. "You support them through good and bad. It's like a marriage, really".
Mrs Elin Woods may have other ideas of what constitutes a marriage, of course, and who's to say if Williams' support could be influenced by having become New Zealand's richest 'sportsman' – thanks to Tiger.