(Reuters) - Tiger Woods proved he could be competitive again after playing some of the best golf of his comeback with a final-round four-under 68 to tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas on Sunday.
No one could match Rickie Fowler, though. The world number nine birdied his first seven holes and won the elite event by four strokes thanks to a course record 11-under par 61 that left him at 18-under 270.
Woods was 10 strokes back but he had plenty of smiles as he answered the question of how he would do in his first tournament in nearly 10 months following spinal fusion surgery.
Pain free, the former world number one struck for six birdies and an eagle at the Albany course before two closing bogeys. He also had a double bogey in the elite 18-man event that featured eight of the world’s top 10.
“I showed some good signs,” Woods told NBC Sports after finishing the four days at eight-under 280. “I hit some really good shots out there (and am ready for) a bright future.... and no pain.”
The latter was especially important to the 41-year-old who once dominated the sport.
“I’ve had some tough times through the years with my back and then finally to come out on the good side and (be) able to get back out there and play. It’s pretty cool,” he said.
He also spoke positively about the future.
“When I was struggling with my back, the world seemed very small. Day to day stuff was very difficult for me to do,” Woods said. “Now I am able to sit back and enjoy it a little bit more... It’s been really nice.”
He and his team will now sit down to determine how best to build his 2018 schedule for major championships.
“Play enough, but not play too much,” Woods said.
“I don’t know what golf courses I will be playing, what’s the best way to go about it. ...We’ll figure it out.”
He definitely had the Albany course figured over the first nine holes on Sunday.
The day after a bogey-filled front nine, Woods showed flashes of his old self with three birdies and an eagle to make the turn at five-under 31.
Reality returned at 10 where he had a double-bogey at the par-four hole. But the 79 times PGA Tour winner struck back with birdies at 11, 14 and 15 before bogeys at 17 and 18.
Fowler was looking at a seven-stroke deficit when he began his round but seven straight birdies and another at the ninth put him in front at the turn, which he made in eight-under 28.
He added three more birdies on the back nine for a sizzling, bogey-free round.
“I knew I needed to get off to a quick start today to at least show (overnight leader) Charley Hoffman) I was there,” Fowler said. “We took care of that and kept it rolling.”
Hoffman, who started the day with a five-stroke lead, shot 72 and faded to second at 274. England’s Tommy Fleetwood (67) and Jordan Spieth (69) tied for third at 12-under 276.
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris