For four rounds at the PGA Tour event at Florida's PGA National course, the 14-time major winner demonstrated why it's foolish to write off a champion.

By the time he entered the weekend rounds just four shots off the pace his galleries were vast and he was once again the centre of attention for television coverage.

The big galleries were hoping to see 42-year-old Woods clinch an 80th US tour title, but he was tripped up by the infamous Bear Trap – the stretch from holes 15 to 17 – and closed with a 70 to finish 12th, eight shots outside the sudden-death playoff won by Justin Thomas.

However, Woods had done enough to ensure the Masters at Augusta National in April will be one of the most anticipated major championships in years when he pursues a fifth green jacket and first since 2005.

In just his third full-field tournament since 10 months out recuperating from spinal fusion surgery, Sunday's result was his best in an official PGA Tour event since the Wyndham Championship in August 2015.

"I made a big leap this week," Woods said.

"My expectations have gone up. I feel very happy the way I played the entire week."

Woods plays his approach shot on the 4th hole during the final round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa. PHOTO: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.

Woods made his official comeback at Torrey Pines in January, where he finished 23rd, before missing the cut in Los Angeles.

However, Woods' third event of the year was by far his sharpest.

On a course rated the most difficult on the US Tour this season, he led the field for average driving distance and proximity to the hole on approach shots.

"I really hit the ball well; controlled my ball flight and I missed the golf ball in the correct spots. That's something I'm very proud of," Woods said.

"Each (event) I feel I'm getting better and developing more of a feel for playing tournament golf."

Woods is expected to play only the Arnold Palmer Invitational before the Masters, in a bid to preserve his recovering back.

"I need to keep playing tournament golf, keep building towards April," Woods said.

"I'm going to go get back in the gym again and start building, getting strong.

"The goal when I first came back to get everything situated for April, and I feel like I'm right on track for that."

- Evin Priest, Australian Associated Press