Tiger Woods finishes Doral strong

DORAL, Fla. -- Playing well before the leaders and never in contention at a place where he has won three times, Tiger Woods nonetheless walked off the TPC Blue Monster at Doral on Sunday with a bounce in his step and a much-needed boost of confidence.

And he didn't mind taking on a question about the Masters and if he is on track for the year's first major championship next month.

"Oh yeah," Woods said, whose big smile was the only answer needed when asked if he liked his chances at the place where he has won four times.

It is premature to jump to any conclusions after one round, but Woods' 6-under 66 during the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship showed some of the old magic that has been missing from his game for most of this year.

He hit his most fairways and greens of the week, and needed just 25 putts after struggling with the flatstick for the first three rounds.

His score tied for the lowest of the day and matched his lowest of the year, the 66 he shot during the second round of the Dubai Desert Classic. It was also his lowest on the PGA Tour since a 65 in September during the second round of the Deutsche Bank Championship.

"It's definitely getting better, no doubt," Woods said. "I'm putting the pieces together. Everything is kind of shaping up and heading the right direction, which is good. And peaking at the right time, right for the Tavistock Cup."

Woods was clearly in a good mood. The Tavistock Cup is the two-day competition Monday and Tuesday among four golf clubs at his home course, Isleworth.

But even that is not without some significance, according to one of Woods' former coaches, Butch Harmon.

"If he doesn't play well there, I think there are some real problems," Harmon, currently working for Sky Sports in the U.K., said on NBC's telecast on Saturday, a day after Woods hit some awful shots in shooting 74.

"The drives at the second and 14th were a shock," Harmon said of a smother hook and a popup. "This is Tiger Woods, not a Nationwide Tour player trying to get his card.

"If I'm Tiger Woods, I'm a little frustrated I'm not seeing more consistency."

There is no doubt Woods was frustrated, especially on the greens. He switched again away from his trusted Scotty Cameron putter -- the one he's won 13 majors with -- and went with a Nike Method. He first made that move at the British Open last summer, and again in December at the Chevron World Challenge.

Woods put the Method in his bag on Saturday. He said he usually practices with it at home and it helps him when green speeds are slower or grainier. This week, he made just five putts longer than 10 feet, and two of them were on the back nine Sunday.

On Sunday, Woods made seven birdies and just one bogey and moved from a tie for 30th to 10th. It was Woods' first top-10 finish in a PGA Tour event since he tied for fourth at the U.S. Open.

In seven previous appearances at Doral, Woods had never finished out of the top 10 and won three times, twice during the full-field event that preceded the World Golf Championship tournament that began here in 2007.

Playing with Woods on Sunday was Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, who dispatched Woods during the opening round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on the first extra hole.

"I just thought his iron play was phenomenal today," Bjorn said "His distance control was there. He gave himself a lot of opportunities.

"It just looks like he needs to hit fairways. He putted all right today. In Tucson his short game was off for some reason. That's what I saw. I think that was just an off day. That's not going to leave him. He's one of the best in the world. He's obviously still got some work to do, but the Masters is probably coming at a pretty good time for him, to be honest."

Woods is expected to play the Arnold Palmer Invitational beginning March 24, with the Masters to follow two weeks later.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.