Does Tiger even believe in himself anymore?

Tiger Woods reacts after teeing off on the 15th hole during the final round of the Abu Dhabi...

Tiger Woods reacts after teeing off on the 15th hole during the final round of the Abu Dhabi Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Jan. 29, 2012. (PHILIP BROWN/Reuters)

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:21 AM ET

CALGARY - With every close call, Tiger Woods convinces more of the doubters that it’s only a matter of time before he hoists another trophy.

Question is, is the embattled golf superstar among the current believers?

Woods arrived for Sunday’s final round with a share of the lead at the European Tour’s star-studded Abu Dhabi Championship but couldn’t post a red number to match his trademark red shirt, scratching out an even-par finish despite several poor shots and settling for a share of third spot.

What seemed even more startling was his you-can’t-win-’em-all response in a post-round interview, a very un-Tiger-like reaction that seemed to suggest he was satisfied with the result.

“I was right there with a chance to win the golf tournament,” Woods shrugged. “And I didn’t do it.”

Perhaps Woods’ calm demeanour in that Golf Channel interview was just a front, another attempt to repair a public reputation that’s taken a beating since his extra-marital affairs became front-page news on the weekly gossip magazines.

Or maybe he wasn’t as surprised as some of his supporters, those folks who figured this was the week he’d finally end a 26-month winless drought in full-field events.

Woods mixed a hat-trick of birdies with three bogeys in Sunday’s final round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, firing an even-par 72 (the way he struck the ball, it could’ve been a lot worse). He finished with a four-day tally of 11-under 277, two strokes back of third-round co-leader Robert Rock.

Northern Ireland’s mop-topped Rory McIlroy, the reigning U.S. Open champion and currently the second-best golfer on the globe, was the runner-up 12-under.

Top-ranked Luke Donald was further down the leaderboard. Same goes for No. 3 Lee Westwood and No. 4 Martin Kaymer. Ditto for defending Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and British Open title-holder Darren Clarke.

With what was being called one of the strongest fields in European Tour history, a share of third-place — and a US$142,222 payout — is not too shabby.

Unless, of course, you already have 83 professional titles on your resume, including 14 majors and 16 World Golf Championships events.

“Obviously, the ultimate goal is to win, and I didn’t win.” Woods told reporters after Sunday’s round. “I played well enough, I thought, to win the golf tournament. Unfortunately, I just didn’t get it done.”

In his prime, Woods rarely faltered so close to the finish line.

Heading into Sunday’s final lap in Abu Dhabi, the 36-year-old boasted an unbelievable 55-8 record when leading or sharing top spot after three rounds.

That fact certainly wasn’t lost on Rock, a former club professional and now one of only nine golfers to outduel Woods on a Sunday afternoon.

“It’s difficult playing with Tiger,” Rock said. “You expect almost every shot to threaten to go in.”

During his heyday, Woods seemed to expect it, too.

That’s not necessarily the case right now, but at least he’s been a factor in his past three appearances.

He finished third at the Australian Open in mid-November.

Two weeks later, Woods was crowned the champion at the Chevron World Challenge, an 18-man event that doesn’t count as an official victory.

And on Sunday, during the final round of his first tournament of 2012, he managed another solid result despite missing too many fairways and leaving himself too many long putts to ever put much of a scare into Rock.

“I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made so far,” Woods told Golf Channel. “Since Australia, my stroke-play events, I’ve been doing pretty good. I just need to keep building, keep getting more consistent.”

And keep believing.

wes.gilbertson@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson


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