By Mark Lamport-Stokes
THOUSAND OAKS, California (Reuters) - Tiger Woods was excited about his overall prospects and the sharpness of his short game for next year, despite failing to finish his 2012 campaign with a flourish at the World Challenge on Sunday.
Tournament host of the elite 18-player event at Sherwood Country Club, Woods went into the final round five shots off the lead and ended it eight strokes behind winner Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland.
A stunning eagle three at the 16th, where he struck his second shot from 252 yards to six feet, briefly put Woods five off the pace but he was unable to make up further ground on a rain-soaked day as he closed with a one-under-par 71.
"Overall I struggled with my game this week," the defending champion told reporters after falling well short in his bid to win a fourth tournament this year. "I didn't quite have it.
"But I've come a long way. Last year was a very disappointing year. I was hurt for most of the year and didn't really do much.
"And then to win this event last year, which spring-boarded me into this year. I won three times on tour, and once I passed Jack (Nicklaus) on my all-time wins that was a pretty neat accomplishment as well."
In July, 14-times major champion Woods moved past Nicklaus into second place on the all-time PGA Tour winners list when he clinched the AT&T National by two shots for his 74th title on the U.S. circuit.
Although he has not triumphed in the majors since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Woods has been especially encouraged by the improvement in his short game in recent months.
"My short game has been really good from late summer on," said the American world number three who will celebrate his 37th birthday at the end of this month. "I was hitting the ball a little better so I was spending more time chipping and putting.
"But now I gotta hit the ball better than I have. I've got six weeks off so it will be nice to throw the clubs in the closet for a few weeks and then get back after it."
Asked how much he felt he needed that six-week break to recharge his batteries before starting his 2013 season, Woods replied: "I need it. It's been a long year and I've played a lot.
"I'm really looking forward to it, just having nothing to do with golf for a few weeks, put them (the clubs) away, enjoy the holidays and be with my kids.
"After that I'll start cranking back up again and start focusing on my shots. As far as actually sitting out there, working on my technique, my numbers and all that stuff, that's probably not going to happen at least until after Christmas."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)