DORAL, Fla. -- This time, the grin on Tiger Woods mug wasn't contrived, forced or transparently fake.
He was happy, for darned good reason.
For the first time in weeks, he had actually pieced together a comprehensively solid round, with all 14 clubs in the bag, and finished with a 6-under 66 at the Cadillac Championship, matching the low round of the day at Doral Golf Resort & Spa.
He even unveiled some rare self-deprecation.
“Peaking at the right time," Woods said. "For the Tavistock Cup."
That's an inter-club competition staged Monday and Tuesday at his home track in Orlando, where Woods ought to feel quite at home.
After shooting 70-66 on the weekend, Woods seemed relieved that his oft-dissected swing changes are coming to fruition. Then again, he's played well in fits and spurts before, including last December and last month in Dubai, but hasn’t been able to remotely string together four clean rounds.
After the dust settled and some of the leaders fell back, Woods finished T10 at Doral, his best finish in a fully sanctioned PGA Tour event since the U.S. Open last June. It was good for the confidence, especially after a 2-over 74 on Friday that featured two of the worst tee shots he's ever hit.
“No doubt,” Woods said. “Today, I hit a lot of good golf shots, and when I did mis-hit one, I knew what the fix was right away. Boom, and I got right back on my run of hitting good shots again. That feels good.”
Woods was up and down at the Ryder Cup, contended at the semi-official HSBC Champions event last fall in China and lost in a playoff at the unofficial Target World Challenge in December. He had a chance in Dubai, but struggled in the wind with a 75 on Sunday and finished T20.
Now No. 5 in the world, his lowest position since before winning the 1997 Masters, Woods at least held his ground this week in the rankings and won’t slip farther.
While his putting was unwatchable at times -- he was second-to-last in the field through three rounds and eventually finished T55 out of 66 players in overall putting average -- it was better on the weekend after he made a putter change. He made five putts of over 10 feet and two came on the back nine Sunday. Overall, he made five of 24 attempts from between 10 and 20 feet.
His irons, however, looked as good as they had in months.
“The shapes of my shots are getting tighter," he said, upbeat. "The driver is still not quite there. I’m not quite shaping the golf ball like I want to, but I’m hitting it flush again, which is good. Just a matter of time before that comes around.”
While he sounded optimistic, indeed, he hasn’t won in the States in 18 months, and being out of contention for such a long stretch isn’t exactly a happy topic.
“Of course, it bothers me,” Woods said. “I want to win golf tournaments. The whole idea of entering events is to win golf tournaments, and I didn’t do that this week. But I showed positive signs for the next time I play, which is a good thing.”
Beyond the Tavistock event, Woods likely will next tee it up in two weeks at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won six times. Somebody asked if he felt like he was ready to contend at the Masters, now four weeks away.
“Mmmm-hmmm,” he said.