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Stricker was still rusty from having not competed in nearly two months, but he liked what he saw from his partner.

“He was hitting it as solid as I’ve ever seen him hit it,” Stricker said during his pro-am round at Sherwood. “He’s got his length back _ he had it back last year, too _ but he hit a 2-iron at Melbourne that was going forever. Into the wind, it was going like a 3-wood. He was just really compressing the ball and hitting it on a direct line.”

Woods gave Stricker credit for sorting out a flaw in his putting stroke before Woods played his singles match, which he won to provide the cup-clinching point for the Americans.

That might be the final piece of the puzzle _ putting and confidence, which often are linked in this game.

Woods didn’t make many putts in Australia, though not many players did on the fast, firm greens of Royal Melbourne, especially in those gusts.

“He seems happy,” Stricker said. “And he’s getting his confidence back. He just needs to see the ball go in the hole a few more times.”

Woods found time for a little humor Wednesday. He was told about a hockey helmet that Woods supposedly signed years ago and made its way to the Hockey Hall of Fame. A reporter told him it was going for $5,000 on eBay.

Woods stared at him blankly, and as much as the reporter tried to jog his memory, there was no recollection. He then was asked about his swing.

“I’m swinging the club well enough that you don’t need to walk out there with hockey helmets on,” Woods said.

As for his expectations, Woods said they have not changed. “Just place the ball in correct spots and get the W,” he said. Even so, they would seem to be different than they were at the Frys.com Open the first week in October, when he had not played in seven weeks; or in Australia, after another month off.

He feels he is making progress, and only had to wait a week to show it this time.

“Absolutely I can sense it,” Woods said. “I’ve made tremendous strides.”