Continued from page 1

Stricker tied for third at The Barclays to stay at No. 2, then it’s Chicago and Atlanta, and another shot at $10 million.

“We’ve got a lot of important golf left, and it’s a good time to play well,” he said.

No need telling that to Woods.

He was at No. 112 until he tied for 12th last week, his best finish since June. He at least needs to make the cut in the Deutsche Bank Championship to get to the next round outside Chicago.

Just that possibility of missing out at Cog Hill, where he is the defending champion, explains what kind of year it has been. Woods has not returned to defend a title when the tournament changed dates (BellSouth Classic), was not played (Asian Honda Classic), because he was injured or because he was taking a break from the game to fix his home life.

He has never failed to return to a tournament that he won because he wasn’t eligible.

“It’s been a different year,” he said.

One sign it’s getting back to normal for him _ Thursday was his first press conference without a question about his personal life. Another sign could be the way he was hitting the ball at The Barclays, which has left him more optimistic than any other time this year.

“I’m starting to see some progress, which is nice,” Woods said. “Mentally, I’m hitting the ball much better, hence I have more confidence. I’m driving the ball much straighter, hitting the ball a little bit farther, especially with my irons. And those are all positive signs. It’s just a matter of making it a little bit more natural. And that’s just reps.”