THOUSAND OAKS Graeme McDowell kept trying to convince himself and everyone else that his game was improving, even though he had gone two years without a trophy.
That's what made Sunday so sweet.
With two superb short-game shots on the back nine, McDowell closed with a 4-under-par 68 to win the World Challenge by three shots over Keegan Bradley.
"We all put winning up on a pedestal as the ultimate goal," McDowell said. "We like to say that it's all about the process and going through the motions and trying to get better. But let's be honest. We all measure ourselves by the win."
The three-shot margin made it look easier than it was. Sherwood Country Club was playing long in a light rain, giving an advantage to a big hitter like Bradley, not to mention tournament host Tiger Woods. Even when McDowell built a four-shot lead through 11 holes, a careless three-putt bogey on the 13th brought Bradley within two shots with five holes to play.
McDowell responded with a 75-foot putt that he lagged to tap-in range, a key moment for someone coming off a three-putt. From a precarious spot behind the 17th green, he had to land his chip in the rough and hope it would hop onto the fringe and not run too far by the hole. He pulled it off perfectly.
"It was an inch away from sticking in the fringe, and about one-sixteenth of an inch away from going in the hole," he said.
He made one last birdie he didn't need. It was the 10th time in 12 rounds at Sherwood that McDowell has shot in the 60s, and he has two wins and a runner-up finish in his three trips to the World Challenge.
The win followed a year of frustration. He played in the final group of the U.S. Open and British Open but came up short, and he lost some enthusiasm going into tournaments late in the year. He talked all week about a 10-week break, some of it in Northern Ireland and the rest in Orlando, Fla., where he just built a house and he's opening a tavern outside the gates of Lake Nona.
Bradley closed with a 69. Bo Van Pelt had a 70 to finish third. Woods, the tournament host and five-time champion, didn't make a birdie until No. 13 and shot a 71 to tie for fourth.
Nedbank Challenge in Sun City, South Africa Martin Kaymer shot a 3-under 69 to earn his first title of 2012, holding on for a two-shot victory over Charl Schwartzel (69). Bill Haas (71) was third.
Kaymer's win was his first since the WGC HSBC Champions last year and earned him $1.25 million at the end of a memorable year, which included the clinching putt at the Ryder Cup.
LPGA Tour qualifying in Daytona Beach, Fla. Rebecca Lee-Bentham shot a 5-under 67 to tie Moriya Jutanugarn (74) for the top spot, leading 20 players who earned full LPGA status for next year. Roseville's Kim Welch (68) tied for 11th.
PGA Tour qualifying in La Quinta Steven Bowditch shot an 8-under 64 to take a one-stroke lead after the fifth round of the six-round tournament. The final top 25 and ties will receive 2013 PGA Tour cards.