ORLANDO, Florida, March 27 (Reuters) - Tiger Woods put himself into 'Masters mode' on Sunday, ending weeks of introspective analysis to state confidently and simply that he can win the U.S. Masters for a fifth time next month.
Woods shot an even-par 72 in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill to end the week one under and well behind the leaders.
The numbers were not great but Woods was happy with his hitting throughout a round which was damaged by a bogey on the 17th and then a double bogey on the final hole where he found water.
Afterwards, before signing autographs with a crowd of enthusiastic fans, Woods was asked about his driving, his putting and his comfort level.
The 14-times major winner has been willing to share his problems of late but this time the message was that he was getting better in all those areas and that crucially, for those who wonder whether he still has that formidable confidence, he had no doubt about whether he can triumph at Augusta.
Woods had a simple one word answer to the question of whether he can win, staring the reporter in the eye as he delivered it: “Absolutely”.
It was old school Tiger, a sign that with just over a week to prepare for the Masters he is now in the zone - no longer focusing on the doubts and what he has called 'the process”.
“It was a very good week and a week I need to see. I really hit the ball well and the things that we have been working on for the last couple of weeks, really, really felt comfortable today, I felt I was able to control just about every shot today,” he told reporters.
His driving? “Much better. Every day has gotten a little bit tighter which is good. I have to keep working, keep staying the course, each day is progressing. Today was really nice,” he said.
“I need to keep progressing and hopefully it will peak two more Thursdays from now. Early in the year was disappointing because the conditions showed some signs of weakness that I had to work on - now it's feeling very, very good”.
That positive talk was however against the backdrop to a messy end to his round.
“I played well all day and the best shot I hit was on 17th but it didn't come out. On 18 I was caught between clubs, went with the lower one and didn't luck out.
“I hit three water balls this week and had a few missed putts here and there and I'm not that far behind. Add all that together, you can't afford to make those mistakes”.
Woods is not playing next week's tour event in Houston, instead he heads early to Augusta to start practice.
Last year, Woods went into Augusta without playing any tour events and finished tied fourth.
“It is nice to have some tournaments under my belt and be more in tournament shape going in. They have made a couple of changes at Augusta. I'll take a look at those and develop a game plan,” he said.
It is game on now for Woods and the golfing world will be watching eagerly to see whether there really is substance to his renewed swagger.