LA JOLLA, California, Jan 29 (Reuters) - A decade ago Tiger Woods would not have been happy to finish tied for 23rd at Torrey Pines but after the injury woes he has endured in recent years the former world number one could not have been more delighted with his latest performance.
Aged 42, Woods is unlikely to reach the dizzy heights he achieved in his 1997-2008 glory days, when he won 14 majors.
But at the Farmers Insurance Open he showed a doubting audience his short game and creativity are still intact.
Woods still knows how to get the ball into the hole even when his driver is not a model of consistency.
More importantly, he came through 72 holes on a tough course without any obvious signs of physical discomfort.
It was a far cry from 12 months ago when, in obvious pain, he gingerly completed 36 holes at the same venue.
The spinal fusion surgery he had last April to alleviate pain in his back and leg seems to have had the desired result. It is a serious procedure with no guarantee of success, but the gamble has paid off as he looks to resurrect his career.
Finishing joint 23rd on Sunday out of a field of 156 in only his second start since the surgery - the other being at last month's unofficial Hero World Challenge - proved that he is determined to make the comeback count.
His driving was ordinary – he hit only three fairways in each of the final three rounds – but former British Open champion Ian Baker-Finch said it was not as bad as it might have seemed to some.
“Driving is certainly in need of improvement but not as bad as stats show,” Baker-Finch, who was part of the CBS television commentary team at Torrey Pines, told Reuters.
“Tiger will miss on the side of the fairway with least trouble on intimidating, difficult driving holes.
“It’s all about the score. He wanted to play well and make the cut and play four rounds. He achieved all of those.
“His short game and putting was very good, world class in fact.”
Baker-Finch expects Woods to improve during the year, assuming the American's back does not give out again.
Woods has been stuck on 14 major titles since the 2008 U.S. Open. While his chances of matching Jack Nicklaus' record haul of 18 might be slim, it is not unthinkable to suggest he could challenge for another one or two again.
The first test will come at the Masters in April, and everything he does between now and then will form part of his preparation.
“I like what I saw,” Baker-Finch said. “He will only gain more confidence with more reps. Watch closely at Riviera (at the Genesis Open in three weeks).” (Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Pritha Sarkar)