DORAL, Fla. — Tiger Woods won for the second time this season Sunday, answering even more questions about being ready to start winning the Masters Tournament again.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy showed signs that he could also be a factor at Augusta National Golf Club. And Augusta native Charles Howell moved closer to earning an invitation to join Woods and McIlroy in to his hometown tournament, which starts April 11.
Woods, who is ranked No. 2 in the world, was never challenged in Sunday’s final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump Doral. He won by two shots over Steve Stricker (3-under-par 69 on Sunday), the man who gave Woods a valuable putting tip Wednesday.
The third-place finishers – Adam Scott (64 on Sunday), Sergio Garcia (69), Phil Mickelson (71) and Graeme McDowell (72 with a double bogey on the final hole) – finished five shots behind Woods.
Woods led by four shots entering the final round, meaning he’s now won 58 of the 68 times he’s played in the final pairing in the closing round of a 72-hole PGA Tour event.
With his 76th career PGA Tour victory, Woods needs seven more to pass Sam Snead as the career lead. It was also his 17th World Golf Championships title, but first WGC title since 2009.
The way the 37-year-old Woods is playing – he had 27 birdies and finished at 19-under-par 269 after a final-round 71 – could mean two more dry spells might end at Augusta National next month.
It’s been eight years since Woods won his fourth green jacket and nearly five years since his last major championship – the 14th of his career – at the 2008 U.S. Open.
“Anytime you can win prior to Augusta, that always feels good, and I’ve been lucky to do that a few times,” said Woods, who also won at Torrey Pines on Jan. 27.
Woods isn’t the only one who is peaking at the right time for the Masters. McIlroy, who had failed to make a cut this season and who walked off the course during the second round of the Honda Classic last week, shot 65 and moved from a tie for 30th place after three rounds into a tie for eighth place.
Woods and McIlroy were the pretournament favorites in the 2012 Masters. And they did battle it out at Augusta National – for 40th place.
McIlroy, who has been adjusting to his new Nike clubs this season, opened with eagle on the par-5 first hole Sunday and added five more birdies. He didn’t make a bogey.
“To play a round out there today with the conditions the way they are was very pleasing,” McIlroy said. “It was pleasing to see some of the shots I hit out there and able to convert some of them on the greens, too. It was a good score out there, and a lot of positive signs going into the next few weeks.
“I was pretty down about my game coming into this week, but a few days like I’ve played, it does my confidence a world of good,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy was encouraged by a range session after his first-round 73 on Thursday, but he didn’t think he was on the verge of this kind of breakthrough.
“A day like today felt like a long way away if I’m honest,” McIlroy said. “Just goes to show, if you get something and it feels OK for you, it’s not as far a away as you think. That’s been one of my problems; I always think when I’m playing bad that it’s further away than it is.”
Howell in trying to get into the top 50 in the World Golf Ranking at the end of the Houston Open on March 31 and earn a Masters invitation. He started the week 66thut is expected to move up to the mid-50s after a tie for 12th at Doral.
“There are a few more weeks left before the end of the qualification,” said Howell, who isn’t playing this week in Tampa. “I’ve got to play well at Bay Hill and Houston. I still need to have two good tournaments there because this world ranking moves around a lot. We’ll see. I’m playing a lot and I’m trying to grind out each one. I’ll keep playing and give it my best shot.”
Howell shot 68-71-69-71 at Doral with three birdies and two bogeys in the final round. He had rounds of 26, 24, 26 and 28 putts, respectively.
Howell’s putter helped him save par Sunday on the 18th hole, where he had gone into the water off the tee. He rolled in a 38-foot par putt.
“The greens were getting so crusty that the last five or six holes were really, really fast and it was hard to get the speed right on them,” Howell said. “So there, I was just trying to two-putt it to be honest with you. I was trying to get the speed right and it goes in. Sometimes golf goes that way.”