Tiger Woods manages to keep busy. Since last playing a competitive round of golf two months ago, he has been seen at the US Open tennis tournament in New York, a Stanford-UCF college football game in Orlando and a golf course design project in Missouri.
There also was a fundraiser for his foundation at Liberty National outside of New York City, as well as another one this week at Pebble Beach in California -- not to mention he has started work on his memoir.
Also, there was that arthroscopic procedure on his left knee in late August.
And that's just the stuff we know about. Woods, given his popularity and stature, has a lot going on that might be difficult to comprehend. From business obligations to foundation duties to sponsorship commitments, there's not much down time. And how much of that time included his own golf game is what makes his return to competitive golf next week so intriguing.
For the first time since the BMW Championship in August, Woods will tee it up for real at the Zozo Championship in Japan. Here are some things to know as he returns to competition.
The Zozo Championship is the first official PGA Tour event to be contested in Japan and will be played at the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, which is located in Chiba Prefecture, outside of Tokyo.
The event features 78 players and is co-sponsored by the PGA Tour and the Japan Golf Tour, with 60 players coming off the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup list from 2018-19, 10 from the Japan Tour and eight sponsor exemptions. The purse is a whopping $9.75 million and there is no cut.
Woods announced he would be playing the event a few weeks after winning the Masters, and his appearance comes with a Monday exhibition/skins game at the same course that includes Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama. Called "The Challenge: Japan Skins,'' it will give a first look at Woods playing under pressure, although the skins purse is a modest $350,000.
Back in the day, a long period between tournaments was of little concern to Woods. But as we've seen over the past year, it has not translated as well now. And throw in the back woes that hobbled him most of the summer, the oblique injury that came out of nowhere and then an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee, and there is plenty to wonder about as Woods gets inside the ropes again.
Following the 2018 Ryder Cup, Woods took a lengthy break and didn't look sharp in his one-day Match event against Phil Mickelson, nor a week later at the Hero World Challenge -- where he finished 17th out of 18 players. When Woods returned in January, he slowly and successfully built his way toward that Masters victory in April.
But since then, the results were disappointing and included two missed cuts in just six tournaments. Woods also withdrew from the Northern Trust after one round due to an oblique injury that appeared to be OK a week later when he played well -- all things considered -- at the BMW Championship.
He was never a factor at Medinah, however, and finished in a tie for 37th, 18 strokes behind winner Justin Thomas, failing to qualify for the Tour Championship. That was on Aug. 18 -- and he's since had the knee surgery, which has led to more mystery surrounding his game.
They should probably be modest. Not only has Woods not competed for two months, but we're not really even sure how much Woods has played and practiced. There was obviously a layoff following his knee procedure, which occurred sometime the week of Aug. 19. Although Woods said he'd hoped to be practicing within "the next few weeks,'' only three weeks ago at his charity event in New York did he reveal that he had just recently been cleared to resume full practice. There were issues in his game to start with, so how much he is able to overcome will be of interest.
There were some positive signs this week in video of Woods conducting a clinic for his foundation at Pebble Beach. He appeared to be hitting all of the shots, although there is no indication of how many rounds he's played -- walking -- in recent weeks.
That said, unless he is determined to play in the Presidents Cup, there is no need for Woods to rush. If he has a mediocre performance in Japan, so be it. He will have the Hero World Challenge in December as well to gauge where his game is at and embark on working his way back in January.
The Presidents Cup
The subplot to the week will be how much his performance matters as it relates to picking himself for the U.S. Presidents Cup team. Woods, who was named the captain in March 2018, figured to be a lock for his own team when he won the Masters. But he finished the points race in 13th position, with the top eight qualifying after the BMW Championship and four at-large picks coming in two weeks.
Ahead of him on the list are Tony Finau, Gary Woodland, Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed -- who is the only player to win recently. Finau was one of the few bright spots for the U.S. at the 2018 Ryder Cup. Woodland won the U.S. Open. Fowler is a veteran of many teams. And -- last year's Ryder Cup in France aside -- Reed has been a strong member of U.S. teams. The decision will not be easy.
Kevin Kisner and Kevin Na, who won in Las Vegas two weeks ago, would seemingly also get consideration. Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, seemed to eliminate himself from consideration. On Wednesday, he said he doesn't expect to be selected and that Woods has better options available.
Consideration could also perhaps go to a player who gets hot during the Asian swing of tournaments that starts this week in South Korea and goes to Japan and then China. Woods will make his four at-large selections the week of Nov. 4. Nobody at this point seems a slam-dunk pick, which makes the possibility of Woods taking himself more viable.
Despite his own denials, there is surely pressure on him to play. Perhaps Woods doesn't care, but undoubtedly others on the team, fans in Australia, the PGA Tour and the various television partners would love to see Woods as a player/captain, even if it is in a limited playing role.
Regardless, it would seem he needs to show some decent form in Japan for him to make such a decision.
After the Zozo Championship, Woods will spend a week figuring out his at-large selections for the Presidents Cup. He also will have five weeks between competitive starts, as the Hero World Challenge begins on Dec. 4. While his desire is to always play well there, since the event moved to the Bahamas in 2015, Woods has played it three times, with his best result a tie for ninth out of 18 players in 2017.
That was the beginning of Woods' remarkable comeback from spinal fusion surgery earlier that year, and he played the event at a high level of intensity with much to gain from giving full effort.
But the tournament is also a big week for his foundation -- he's pulled in numerous directions, and his game is not the No. 1 priority. With the Presidents Cup the following week in Melbourne, Australia, it is difficult to see maximum effort exerted at the event -- as much as Woods may try.
If he is playing in the Presidents Cup, some good form in the Bahamas is more a priority; if not, what happens is of little consequence -- other than earning world ranking points. Woods then likely would have six weeks before his first start in 2020.
A year ago, there was considerable conjecture he would play the Sentry Tournament of Champions, given his eligibility. Woods ultimately elected to skip, and made his season debut at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. With the Presidents Cup ending on Dec. 15, that would appear to be the play again (although Japan is his 2019-20 season debut), as Woods will again use a handful of tournaments to try and peak for the Masters.
All of this assumes a level of health and fitness that went missing for the latter part of 2019. Woods turns 44 on Dec. 30 and performing at a high level -- competing and winning tournaments -- depends so much on his ability to properly prepare, let alone be fit enough to compete with the best in the world.
But first things first: a long trip to Japan, a skins competition followed by a PGA Tour event, and some answers to where Woods is headed with his game.