Tiger Woods is set to make his long-awaited return to competitive golf at the PGA Tour's Safeway Open, which starts Oct. 13.
Woods sent the golf world into a tizzy last month when he announced his intention to make an October return after missing more than a year due to lingering back problems. His last start, which resulted in a 10th-place finish, came last August at the Wyndham Championship.
"My rehabilitation is to the point where I'm comfortable making plans, but I still have work to do," Woods said in early September. "Whether I can play depends on my continued progress and recovery. My hope is to have my game ready to go."
It's been a long and winding road for the 14-time major champion, who's accumulated an extensive injury history, especially over the past few years. It's hard to know what to expect as he gets ready to make his latest comeback.
He didn't look anywhere near ready to compete in May during a promotional appearance at Congressional Country Club. Golf Channel provided the cringe-worthy highlights as one of the world's most famous athletes sent three straight shots into the water on a par-three, 102-yard hole.
Even before the latest health setback, Woods wasn't playing close to the level necessary to contend for major titles. His play off the tee was erratic, and he'd seemingly lost all confidence in his short game, looking more like a Sunday hacker than a golf legend around the greens.
In turn, Trey Wingo of ESPN spotlighted the key question as the longtime fan favorite makes his final preparations for a return shrouded in mystery:
Even though there will be a rush to draw definitive conclusions after every round, the answer won't be known after one event. It's going to take some time to see whether Woods can stay healthy enough to shake off the rust and start playing a consistent schedule again.
That's the most important factor, as it's unrealistic to believe he can overcome the likes of Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth on the sport's biggest stages unless he avoids additional long-term injuries.
Ewan Murray of the Guardian expressed a similar position:
That said, we're still talking about perhaps the greatest golfer in history. He's also just three years removed from a season where he won the Jack Nicklaus Trophy as the PGA Tour's Player of the Year after winning five tournaments and recording two top-10 finishes in majors.
There's little question the talent remains there for Woods to challenge that next generation of stars. It would be awesome to witness him battle the likes of Day, Johnson, McIlroy or Spieth during a Sunday afternoon at the Masters.
The uncertainty is whether his body and mind are up to the task, particularly when you consider the expected full-scale equipment change. His outlook should become clearer by the time he heads to Augusta for the Masters in April.