One shot behind with two holes to play, Woods looked like the player who dominated golf for so much of his career as he went birdie, birdie to beat a high-class field in the Chevron World Challenge in California on Sunday.

The one-shot triumph from Zach Johnson was his first victory since a sex scandal shattered his iconic image just days after winning the 2009 Australian Masters.

Woods had gone 26 starts worldwide in more than two years since without a victory as personal turmoil was followed by struggles on the course with swing changes and, this year, injuries that curtailed his playing time and stalled his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles at 14.

“It feels great,” said Woods, who let out a roar as his six-foot birdie putt at the final hole dropped, then shook hands with Johnson as fans at Sherwood Country Club bellowed their approval.

“I wasn’t really thinking, I think I was yelling,” Woods said. “I think I was screaming something, but it was just that I won the golf tournament. I pulled it off with one down, two to go. To go birdie-birdie is as good as it gets.”

Asked if his over-riding emotion was joyous, satisfied or simply relief, Woods smiled and said, “It just feels awesome whatever it is.”

His final-round 69 gave him a 10-under total of 278, and he donated the $US1.2 million winner’s prize to his charitable foundation, for which he hosts this event.

While the Challenge is not an official US PGA Tour tournament, it counts toward the world rankings and Woods is projected to rise from his current 52nd ranking to 21st.

Johnson, who led Woods by one after three rounds, carded a one-under 71. England’s Paul Casey, dead last in the 18-man field after a first-round 79, was the unlikely third-placed finisher with a 69 for 283.

Australia’s Jason Day shot a closing 72 and finished 15th, a distant 13 shots behind Woods.

But the final round was all about Woods and whether he could out-duel Johnson and finally get himself back into the winner’s circle after promising performances at the Australian Open and in America’s Presidents Cup triumph at Royal Melbourne last month.

Despite a few “loose shots”, Woods said his new swing held up admirably.

“When the pressure was on the most the last two holes, I hit three of the best shots I hit all week. That’s very exciting for me,” he said.

Johnson said Woods’ ability to stay clear of injury was the key factor in whether he continued to win in 2012 as he resumes his majors quest.

“If the man is healthy, that’s paramount,” Johnson said. “He’s the most experienced and the best player I’ve ever played with. In every situation, he knows how to execute and win.”