(CNN) — After Tiger Woods’ performance at the Valspar Championship in Florida over the weekend, is the 14-time major winner back to his best?
Woods didn’t end his near five-year title drought but the American came close, finishing tied for second — one shot behind winner Paul Casey. It was his best result since also tying for second at the Barclays in 2013.
It was good timing for the 42-year-old, since the year’s first major — the Masters at Augusta — begins in just under three weeks.
Woods last won one of golf’s four majors in 2008, beset since by four back surgeries and off-course issues.
“I keep getting just a little bit better and a little bit sharper,” Woods said. “Today I wasn’t quite as sharp as I would’ve liked to have had it, but I had a good shot at winning the golf tournament.
“A couple of putts here and there and it could’ve been a different story.”
There were flashes of vintage form in the final round Sunday, nailing a 44-foot-putt at the 17th for a birdie.
Needing another birdie on the 18th to force a playoff with clubhouse leader Casey, his putt fell two feet short and Woods had to settle for par.
But Woods still finished at an impressive nine-under for the tournament, level with countryman Patrick Reed, following a 12th place finish at the Honda Classic at the end of February. And perhaps providing an indication of how his back his feeling, Woods recorded the fastest club-head speed of the season Saturday at 129.2 miles per hour on the 14th hole.
It’s fair to say his performance didn’t go unnoticed.
Indeed, NBC Sports reported its third-round TV viewing figures on the Golf Channel were up 181% on the same day last year, while the final round drew a 5.11 overnight rating — the highest audience outside the majors since the 2013 Players Championship, won by Woods.
His fellow competitors also took note of his showing.
“It’s fantastic, obviously, to see Tiger playing golf and here at Valspar, too, the difference he makes to the tour is huge,” said 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott, who tied for 16th at Palm Harbor.
“I mean, it’s awful to say, we kind of got used to not seeing him out here and it was still good.
“But it’s that much better when he does come and play.”
Four-time major winner Ernie Els likes what he sees from Woods, too.
“I’m seeing the normal Tiger, the Tiger I’ve known for 24 years,” said Els. “The Tiger that was not quite the same guy was because of the injuries. It must have been so disappointing to him. Who knows how bad it was?
“He’s swinging hard, he’s swinging with confidence,” added Els. “Knowing that his back is going to be fine. You can plan things and look to them with excitement instead of going week to week wondering if something is going to break.
“He has that energy believing his body is back and he has the talent and he’s done the work.”
Woods will look to maintain his form when he competes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week. He’s had tremendous success at Bay Hill, winning the event eight times.
If his outing at the Valspar Championship is any indication, he is looking good for No. 9.
“I have always enjoyed Bay Hill,” Woods told the tournament’s website. “The golf is right in front of you.
“You have to think your way around the course and be able to hit a variety of shots. You know what shots are required, and then you have to execute.”
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