Tiger Woods never did make a run at the Honda Classic leaders Sunday, drawing only as close as four shots midway through the back nine.
No matter. Finishing 12th with an even-par 270 was a huge step in the right direction by any measure.
“I feel very positive about it,” Woods said after recording his best finish since placing 10th at the Wyndham Championship in August 2015.
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Drawing the same huge crowds to PGA National Resort that followed him all week, Woods ignited his gallery when he rolled in a 20-foot putt on the first hole. He followed that with two more birdies, at Nos. 4 and 8, to get to 3-under for both the day and the tournament.
There was little magic after that, however, as the same Bear Trap that had punished him all week - he was a cumulative 8 over on the 12 holes - got him again. Just as he had on Friday, he put his tee shot in the water at No. 15 and wound up with double-bogey, then three-putted from 65 feet for bogey at No. 16.
Still, after missing the cut a week earlier at Riviera, there was much for the 14-time major champion from Jupiter Island to like.
“I feel very happy with the way I played the entire week,” he said. “I really controlled my ball flight. In this wind, you can get exposed pretty easily and I felt like I had control.”
Woods, whose previous Honda appearances had consisted of a tie for second behind Rory McIlroy in 2012, a 37th-place finish in 2013 and a withdrawal midway through the final round in 2014, referred to the Honda several times in the past week as his hometown tournament and was gratified with the support he received.
“There’s a lot of people pulling for me here,” he said. “This is where I live. I’ve been in this community for a long time now. I’ve been a South Florida resident for a very long time.
“Last week in L.A. is where I grew up, but I live here now, and these people recognize that. They see me around all the time. I’m part of the community now.”
While Woods didn’t reveal any plans for his future schedule, the expectation is he’ll play next at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando March 15-18. He has won that tournament eight times and was close to its late founder. After that comes the Masters, where he has won four times.
Woods said his performance over the last four days has raised his expectations going forward.
“I’m hitting the ball better,” he said. “I knew I could putt it, I knew I could chip it, but I didn’t know how well I was going to hit it.
“I can’t do what I used to do. I can’t hit the same shots, the same body positions. They are different. I’m just going to have to (get) used to it. (But) I remember how to do this.”
Justin Thomas, who became the 2018 Honda champion when he beat Luke List in the first hole of a playoff, said he joked with List that the crowds for Woods were larger than they were for their group, the final twosome of the day. He also remarked upon Woods’ lack of communication with him on Saturday night, when Woods still felt he had at least an outside shot at winning.
“It was funny,” Thomas said, “because every other time I’ve had a chance to win, I’d get a text from him or hear from him, a little advice, wishing me luck. It was crickets last night. We both obviously had one thing in mind. I thought that was pretty funny.”