By Jim Peltz, Los Angeles Times –
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — There would be no Tiger Woods charge or belly putter magic to topple Graeme McDowell’s stellar play Sunday.
With a critically deft chip shot on the 17th hole and a close-the-door birdie on the 18th, McDowell won the World Challenge in Thousand Oaks by three shots over belly putter Keegan Bradley.
It was the second time in three years that McDowell, a Northern Ireland native, won the invitational tournament at Sherwood Country Club that benefits Woods’ charitable foundation.
McDowell’s prize: $1 million and the satisfaction of winning his first tournament since he captured the World Challenge two years ago in a playoff with Woods. McDowell also won the U.S. Open in 2010.
“I’m relieved to get across the line,” said McDowell, who shot a four-under-par 68 on Sunday to finish at 17 under. “It’s been a frustrating year and this really caps off my season.”
Bradley shot 69 to keep the pressure on McDowell through most of the round. Bo Van Pelt (70) finished third at 10 under, while Woods (71), Jim Furyk (70) and Rickie Fowler (69) tied for fourth at nine under.
Woods, a five-time winner of the tournament, including last year, needed a low round to reach McDowell but struggled instead.
Woods did not make a birdie until the par-five 13th hole, and although he eagled the par-five 16th, it was much too late to matter.
“I struggled with my game a little bit this week, I just didn’t have it,” Woods said.
McDowell was cruising with a four-shot lead over Bradley when they reached the 13th hole. McDowell made bogey and Bradley a birdie, slashing McDowell’s lead to two strokes.
“All of a sudden, it’s game on,” said McDowell, whose fans sometimes yelled “G-Mac!” after his shots.
They were still two strokes apart when McDowell’s tee shot on the par-three 17th landed just behind the green in thick rough. But McDowell hit a soft, downhill chip shot that left the ball at the lip of the cup.
“It was nearly disastrous but it was nearly magical as well,” McDowell said.
McDowell tapped in for par, protecting his two-shot lead over Bradley, then hit his approach on the par-four 18th to within 10 feet of the hole and sank the birdie putt.
The 18-player field had to slosh through another steady drizzle for much of the day, and “overall it’s been a tough week for all of us, just tough conditions to get the ball close,” Woods said.
But as McDowell and Bradley played the back nine, “it really brightened up for a couple of hours today and gave us an opportunity to play golf,” McDowell said. “Keegan really pushed me all the way.”
Bradley, who won the PGA Championship in 2011, is among those who use the belly putter method, in which he holds a long putter whose grip is anchored against his stomach.
The U.S. Golf Association and its overseas counterpart, the Royal & Ancient, ruled last week that the technique would be banned starting in 2016, and Bradley disclosed that after the third round, one spectator had called him a “cheater.”
That prompted the USGA to issue a statement calling the incident “deplorable” because Bradley still was abiding by current rules, and that it was “sorry that Keegan had to experience this unfounded criticism from an obviously uneducated spectator.”
Bradley said there was no added heckling Sunday and “I don’t want to make yesterday into too big of a deal. The people here in Sherwood were awesome.”
Woods, meanwhile, scrambled for much of his round to simply shoot par. Still, he ended his resurgent season with three PGA Tour wins and said he’s “come a long way” from a year ago.
“I’ve got six weeks off,” Woods said, “so (it) will be nice to throw the clubs in the closet for a few weeks and then get back after it.”