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Tiger takes another step at Deutsche Bank

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NORTON, MASS. (AP) - When all was right in the world of Tiger Woods, players wanted to be on the same side of the draw because they figured the world's No. 1 player was getting all the breaks.

That might not be the case at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Woods is among the late starters when the second round of the PGA Tour playoffs gets under way Friday at the TPC Boston. That's about the time the forecast is for the outer bands of Hurricane Earl to arrive.

Tour officials expect Friday morning to be just fine, and that could be good news for the likes of Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker, who are Nos. 1 and 2 in the FedEx Cup standings.

Woods is at No. 65, needing another solid week to make sure he stays in the top 70 and advances to the third round outside Chicago.

The conditions could get so sloppy that tour officials are to meet Friday morning to discuss whether to allow players to lift, clean and place their balls in the fairway. If they don't and the first round is halted by wind and rain, they might not be able to resume until the course is dry enough to keep globs of mud off the ball.

"As long as we can play golf by the rules, we're going to play," said Mark Russell, the tour's vice president of rules and competition. "But if the wind blows so hard it blows the ball around on the greens, we can't play. Or if it rains so hard that the hole goes under water, we can't play. But we might get lucky. Who knows?"

Kuchar sure feels that way.

He already was having one of his best years, consistently in contention and making the Ryder Cup team for the first time. Then came a bogey-free finish at The Barclays and a 7-iron to tap-in range for birdie to win in a playoff, putting him atop the standings.

That assures him a spot in the Tour Championship, and most likely will allow him to have full control over a chance to win the $10 million prize for the FedEx Cup.

Kuchar had a tough time sleeping Sunday night from all the excitement, so it's a good thing this tournament doesn't start until Friday. He took his wife to New York for a few days, splurging on some Ryder Cup outfits and catching a Broadway show.

"The Ryder Cup gives us a stipend to spend on her outfits, and we exceeded it," he said. "But certainly well worth it. You've got to look after the wife and make sure that she's happy, and it's not often we do really nice things."

Stricker also started his week in New York, ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange with Seth Waugh, the CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas. He comes to the TPC at Boston as the defending champion.

"Any time you have such good things happen at a course and then go on to win and come back the next year, you come back with all those positive vibes and positive thoughts," Stricker said. "And it's great to be back here and kind of relive those memories as I was going around there."

But he's more interested in looking ahead.

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."

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