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To his rivals, Tiger looks like Tiger again

Tiger Woods poses with the Gene Sarazen Trophy after winning the 2013 WGC-Cadillac Championship PGA golf tournament in Doral, Florida March
Tiger Woods poses with the Gene Sarazen Trophy after winning the 2013 WGC-Cadillac Championship PGA golf tournament in Doral, Florida March

By Simon Evans

MIAMI (Reuters) - He made 27 birdies on his way to a two-stroke win in the WGC-Cadillac Championship on Sunday and needed just 100 putts in 72 holes as he clinched his second victory of the young year.

Yes, it looks like Tiger Woods is well on the way back.

And if there is any doubt about Woods being close to returning to the pinnacle of the game, a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in two weeks would send the 14-times major winner back to number one in the world rankings.

"I'm just trying to get better," said Woods.

"It's very simple. I feel like my game is becoming more efficient and more consistent day-in, day-out and I am very pleased with the progress I've made with (swing coach) Sean (Foley)."

The debate over whether Woods is truly back to his best, to the kind of devastating form he showed in the early 2000's, will not be over until he ends his nearly five-year wait for another major title.

But his rivals see all the signs of Tiger being Tiger again.

"His attitude and what I saw this week and his belief in himself again, looks very similar to where he was in the early 2000's," said Steve Stricker, who was runner-up at Doral on Sunday, two strokes behind Woods.

"He just seems in a better place mentally to me. He seems to be having fun and seems to have a lot of confidence in himself and his game."

Stricker helped Woods with his putting this week, but while he used that advice to be deadly on the greens he was consistent and controlled through all aspects of his game.

After his return to play following the break-up of his marriage in 2010, Woods showed flashes of his talent along with some dramatically wayward shots, particularly after he started to re-design his swing with coach Sean Foley.

While Woods is not bombing his driver as far as he did in his glory years, he is long enough and still has his superb iron and short game well in place.

"His driver looks like it is a bit safe. He doesn't look like he's got the 350-pound bomb in him anymore," said Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, who played alongside Woods in the final two rounds.

Former U.S. Open winner McDowell said Woods looked in command of his game.

"Everything is just under control on the tee. It's a cut and it's in play and that seems to be the way he's learned how to get his game. Get it in the fairway and then from there, we know how good he is," he said.

"He doesn't have those kind of off-the-radar balls anymore. Back in 2010, 2011 when I would play with him, he would hit the odd shot where you would just blink and go 'really, that's wide'.

"He's got the ball under control now and knows exactly what his golf swing is going to produce," he added.

On Sunday, defending a four-stroke overnight lead, Woods never looked in danger and appeared totally comfortable with the job of closing out his 76th PGA Tour victory.

"I enjoy being there. That's why I work my tail off to lift all those weights, hit all those balls and spend those countless hours out there to be in that position," he said.

"That is why I prepare so hard - to be there."

(Reporting By Simon Evans, Editing by Larry Fine)

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