Will he play a full schedule?
He wants to. Woods has certainly talked as if he will, mentioning the hectic summer -- featuring a three-tournament stretch that will include the PGA Championship -- as well as the fact that the Presidents Cup is overseas in South Korea. Of course, it all comes down to his health.
How healthy is he?
Woods clearly looked better when he played in the Hero World Challenge in early December. Forget the result -- he tied for last place -- but the fact that he played four rounds with seemingly no physical issues (other than the flu) was a positive sign.
Can he avoid the back issues that plagued him in 2014?
This is perhaps the biggest question -- and the most difficult to answer. It's hard to envision Woods having the same kind of trouble that led to March 31 surgery to alleviate a disk issue in his back. Woods said the pain was so severe he could hardly get out of bed. Looking back, it is hard to believe he ever finished the Doral tournament.
But after declaring himself fit when he returned in June, Woods suffered a different back injury in August at the Bridgestone Invitational, one that he said was not related to the surgery. A week later he missed the cut at the PGA Championship, then took four months off. Woods appeared leaner and was swinging freely at the World Challenge, but his ability to stay healthy will be an ongoing issue.
How much will Woods be able to practice?
At age 39, he is unlikely to return to the practice regimen of his 20s. But he needs to get back to regular practice. The back issues of the past two years, in retrospect, took their toll not only on his form but on his ability to work on his game. He won't be able to compete with Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and other top-ranked players giving away so much time to practice.
What impact will Chris Como have?
So far, so good. Woods announced in November that he had brought on Como as a swing consultant. Como's background is in biomechanics and injury avoidance. The latter is certainly key for Woods, who not only needs to avoid injury but also has to find a way to swing the club and not hurt himself anymore. One possible area of concern would be if Woods delves too much into theory and swing mechanics. Too much analysis seemed to be a problem in recent times.
What's wrong with Woods' short game?
It was nothing short of disaster at the World Challenge. Woods could be expected to be rusty. He might not putt well for stretches, and chipping and pitching are skills that need to be honed. But nine chunked shots? Woods should be able to hit such shots blindfolded with no practice whatsoever and not have those kinds of results.
Practice and competition should alleviate this, but the issues were nonetheless alarming.
Can he win his 15th major in 2015?
Too many doubts persist: If Woods remains healthy ... if he can practice ... if his swing falls into shape ... if he fixes his short game ... if he gets himself into contention numerous times ... if he wins his 80th PGA Tour event at some point ... then getting in the mix at a major is of course a strong possibility. But it is too soon to know any of that right now.
How much will he play prior to the Masters?
Nothing is certain, but past history suggests he will play a minimum of four times -- in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, the Honda Classic, the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. What is unclear is if he will add another tournament, and if so, where might that be?
You can make a case for and against the other opportunities he'd have to play before the Florida swing -- the Humana Challenge, Waste Management Phoenix Open, AT&T Pebble Beach and the Northern Trust Open are possibilities.
He's never played Humana, and since 2006 Woods has played the other three tournaments combined just once.
Should he add another tournament?
That's easy: yes. Woods needs to compete, if able. If he plays only at Torrey Pines, that would be just two tournaments between missing the cut at the PGA and starting the Florida swing. Woods has always preferred to prepare and practice at home, but now more than ever he needs the work between the ropes.