MIAMI – Tiger Woods is playing like he does when he wins major golf titles and, with the Masters only a month away, looks ready to close the major win-record gap on Jack Nicklaus for the first time since 2008.
With impressive putting and a masterful short game, Woods captured the World Golf Championships event at Doral on Sunday for his second US PGA title of the year after a January triumph at Torrey Pines.
"That's how I know I can play," Woods said. "That's the thing. To be able to bring it out a couple times so far this year, and then able to close and get the Ws on top of that, that's nice."
Woods has won at Torrey Pines and Doral in the same season three times. In each of those years, he has captured a major title and won between six and eight total events overall. "Any time I can win prior to Augusta, it always feels good," Woods said. "I've been able to do it a few times throughout my career, which is nice."
Woods has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open, when he limped to victory in a playoff over Rocco Mediate with an injury that ended his season. Since then, Woods has faced nagging injuries and an infamous sex scandal, but has seldom shown the form he displayed in winning this year.
His final tuneup for next month's Masters comes next week at Bay Hill, and then he heads for Augusta National legendary layout, a course where he has won four green jackets, but none since 2005.
Woods could overtake Rory McIlroy for the World No. 1 ranking ahead of the Masters and the 14-time major champion could move a step closer to overtaking the record 18 major wins of Nicklaus if he keeps putting well.
"I felt toward the end of last year that I was heading that direction where things were becoming better," Woods said. "That gave me so much confidence heading into the off season that I was heading in the right direction.
"Just keep going, keep plugging along, keep working with the things that Sean wants me to do and lo and behold, I've had two really good weeks this year." Woods was helped by a putting tip from pal Steve Stricker, who finished second at Doral. Stricker joked he wanted a percentage from Woods for his advance.
Woods said no way, but was thankful for a stroke of fate that allowed them to meet. "I didn't call him," Woods said. "He was never around, so I went out and played and came back and there he was.
"Just still hadn't felt right. I still was a little bit off. But to have Stricks help me out like that, just like he always does, he has been a great friend.
"He basically got me in the same position that I was at Torrey, the body position. So once he put me in there where I felt comfortable, I said, well, this is not too foreign. This is what I was a month or so ago and I started rolling it and it felt really good. I just basically carried it through the entire week."
Woods has won 52 of 55 events when he leads after 54 holes, including 20 of his past 21. His once-unbeatable aura took a beating in recent years but Stricker and other rivals can see that Woods has got his groove back.
"You don't have a lot of belief that he's going to come back to the field," Stricker said. "He has been so solid with 54-hole leads over his career that you just don't think he's going to come back. And he didn't again.
"His attitude and his belief in himself again looks very similar to when he was in the early 2000s. He just seems in a better place mentally. He seems to be having fun, seems to have a lot of confidence in himself and his game.
"He's getting it back again, and we know what type of player he is, and it's fun to see him get that potential and that winning way again."
Woods has found success after a third career swing change, each time saying he has made the move to improve his game, the latest tweak easing the stress load on his surgically repaired knees without great sacrifices to distance.
"I don't want to be as good. That was never the intent," Woods said. "I want it to be better." AFP