London: Tiger Woods' joint third-place finish at the Abu Dhabi Championship showed the former world number one was getting closer to regaining his imperious form of old. (Agencies)
For the opening three rounds in the desert heat of the Middle East, the 36-year-old American was almost metronomically accurate with his irons and stunningly precise off the tee.
Woods's putter was cold on the first day but from then on he found his range on the greens and by Sunday's final round, could be backed with near certainty to hole the six-to-eight footers that have been his nemesis for the last two years.
The 14-times major champion eventually finished two strokes behind surprise winner Robert Rock of Britain but chose to accentuate the positives rather than highlight the negatives of his week.
"I'm pleased at the progress," Woods said after a closing level-par 72 gave him an 11-under total of 277.
"Basically, since playing in Australia (at the end of 2011) my strokeplay events have been pretty good. I just need to keep building, keep getting more consistent."
When the heat was on in his head-to-head duel with Rock on Sunday, Woods was unable to find any sort of consistency from tee to green.
He was expected to stamp his authority on his little-known playing partner early in the round but instead it was the Englishman who wrested the initiative away as Woods reached only one green in regulation in the opening eight holes.
The former world number one, up from 25th to 17th after his result in Abu Dhabi, had to scramble on and around the greens to simply stay in contention.
Birdies proved elusive for Woods on the back nine and Rock moved three shots clear of the field with three holes to play before he bogeyed the last to win by a stroke from U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy.
"I think the turning point for me was at the 10th where I hit the most beautiful little wedge after I had just birdied nine to cut the deficit to one," Woods said.
"But I don't know how it did what it did because from our view it looked pretty good. Next thing you know I'm making bogey instead."
Woods's wedge finished off the green and two putts later a six on his card meant Rock was two shots ahead again.
"That was a big turnaround there and I never closed the gap after that," the American added.
"I hit the ball beautifully all week which I'm very pleased about but I was just a touch off on Sunday. I was hitting the ball a little bit further than I thought I would.
"A couple of my three-woods were going about 320 yards which I don't normally do and a couple of my irons were going further than they are supposed to," he said.
"That's something to look at and something to try and figure out."
Overall, his performance against a world-class lineup in Abu Dhabi represents a continuation of the revival he started by winning the Chevron World Challenge limited-field event in California last month.
Woods last triumphed in a full-field event at the 2009 Australian Masters before his game went into decline following injuries and the breakdown of his marriage.
His next outing is the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am that starts on February 9 as he counts down to the first major of the season, the U.S. Masters at Augusta in April.
"I hit the ball good enough to win the golf tournament this week," said Woods. "I just didn't get it done.
"Now I've got a week off to get ready for Pebble and then we have a couple of big World Golf Championship events."
London: Tiger Woods' joint third-place finish at the Abu Dhabi Championship showed the former world number one was getting closer to regaining his imperious form of old.