The 10 Questions Facing Tiger Woods

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The 10 Questions Facing Tiger Woods

July 31, 2011

Photo By: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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How rusty is he after the layoff?

Woods may be the greatest talent in golf, but he still requires reps both on and off the course. By all accounts, he hasn't gotten either in nearly three months, making it seem very likely that he won't be sharp when he tees it up Thursday in Akron. More pressing, though, might be how he'll feel after actually hitting a few shots in competition. Remember, he said he felt fine hitting balls before the Players, too, before re-injuring himself on his opening drive.

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Has he made any swing adjustments to compensate for his knee problems?

As far as anyone knows, Woods has barely touched a club from the time of his WD at the Players, so this seems unlikely. But if problems persist with his knee, which in turn leads to the nagging Achilles injury as well, perhaps some tweaks will have to be made. If so, it might not be the end of the world. Ben Hogan had to adjust after his life-threatening car accident in 1949 and he came back to win six more majors. That's a haul Tiger certainly wouldn't mind at this point.

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Can he compete at the PGA Championship?

First things first. Let's see if Tiger can complete a four-day tournament, or perhaps even one round of 18 holes. If healthy, there's no reason to think he won't be able to crank it up for a major, especially since he's probably extra motivated after missing the last two. And remember, he's only played in one of golf's four biggest events this year and he had a share of the lead Sunday on the back nine at Augusta. As much as he likes playing at Firestone and at friend Notah Begay III's charity tournament, the PGA is the main reason Tiger is coming back when he is.

Can He Qualify For The FedEx Cup Playoffs?

Yes, but Woods has little margin for error. As of now, the Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championships are the only tournaments on his schedule before the postseason begins, and he needs to pick up points if he's going to get within the top 125 spots (he's currently No. 135). Woods was criticized early in the year for a lack of events played in, but at this point, with his injuries, it's doubtful he's going to add to his schedule just to make the playoffs. At least, that seems like the logical move if he's thinking about his long-term goals. In the meantime, one top 25 should be enough to qualify for the postseason, which will begin at the Barclays Aug. 25. If he can make it through 72 holes, that shouldn't be too much of a problem considering he has three top 25s in the four stroke-play events he's completed this year.

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How is he affected by his new caddie situation?

There's no denying Tiger's partnership with Steve Williams was highly successful, but sometimes change can be for the better. The problem is, Woods hasn't found a full-time replacement yet (he'll have childhood friend Bryon Bell on the bag this week), perhaps in part because working for the former top-ranked player doesn't have the same appeal it used to have. Even if Woods finds a great match, there could very well be an adjustment period.

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What Is Up With His Putting?

With all the attention Woods' injuries, personal life, caddie and management change, etc., have received, it's easy to forget how well he struck the ball at the Masters for four days. It's also easy to forget he putted just as poorly. Woods has spent so much time over the years focusing on his swing -- especially in the last year with the change to Foley as a coach -- that some wonder if he's neglected practicing with the flatstick. To win at the clip he's used to, he needs to have all elements of his game in top form. Maybe the time away from taking full swings gave him an opportunity to roll a few more putts, even if it was just on his carpet at home.

Will he play for the U.S. in the Presidents Cup?

Woods has plenty of work to do if he's going to qualify on his own to make the trip Down Under in November. Like with last year's Ryder Cup, however, even if he doesn't, he should make it as a captain's pick, especially since friend Fred Couples will be doing the picking. Couples has already said if Woods is healthy, he would give him one of the last spots on the team. Considering Woods has already entered the Australian Open the week before, he seems intent on teeing it up for the red, white and blue.

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How Does He Fit Into Golf's New Landscape?

Woods' absence from the U.S. Open was accentuated by Rory McIlroy's brilliant performance. The 22-year old from Northern Ireland dominated the field at Congressional to win his first major championship and draw comparisons to Tiger. When the former top-ranked player returns, it will be interesting to see how he stacks up with the McIlroy-led younger generation that was only emboldened during Woods' hiatus. On the flip side, after sitting at home hearing about all the young guns who have already supplanted him, it's a pretty safe bet that Woods is looking forward to the challenge of proving himself.

Can He Catch Jack?

A question that once seemed even silly to ask with the rate Woods was winning is now more up in the air than ever. Having not won a major in more than three years, Woods still needs four more just to tie Jack Nicklaus' mark of 18. At 35, he's still slightly ahead of the Golden Bear's pace, but the more majors he misses due to injury, the more the odds stack up against him. Worth noting: while Woods has won four times in his career at Augusta National, he has had little success to speak of at the other major venues on the immediate horizon. That includes this year's PGA site, Atlanta Athletic Club. Woods finished a disappointed T-29 there in 2001.

Is The Pressure Off?

Tiger still demands headlines no matter what he does, but with his injuries and erratic play, people are starting to write him off. Expectations for him have dwindled to the point where when Woods tees it up at the year's final major, he will be listed as merely one of the favorites (he's currently only No. 28 in the World Golf Ranking). For a man so used to being the guy at every event he plays, it's possible he'll relish being just one of the guys and that it will free him up to perform better. Of course, as soon as his name even appears on a leader board, all the talk of him potentially being washed up will quickly fade away.

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