PHILADELPHIA - Tiger Woods is usually pretty invisible when the leaves start to change colors, but this year will be a bit different.
Woods has been making headlines for several reasons in the past few weeks, though he hasn't teed it up since tragically missing the cut at the PGA Championship in August. In a time where he normally shies away from the limelight, Woods will be center stage over the next couple months as he continues his attempt to return to glory.
One could equate Woods' comeback trail to a baseball pitcher undergoing Tommy John surgery. The rehab is extensive and exhausting, and the return to the mound sometimes takes over a year; furthermore, becoming what you once were takes even more time, occasionally several years.
Woods has endured several injuries the last few years, and he insists he feels better than ever. It may, however, sound better to him and the fans than it looks on the golf course, as he's looked like everything but the man who won five of seven tournaments before a major knee injury ended his 2008 season.
There's been excuses galore for his troubles, from his new swing to a change in caddie to general rustiness from inactivity. In the next two months, he will have two huge opportunities to redeem himself, both at this week's Frys.com Open and next month's Presidents Cup.
While the Frys.com Open is not the Presidents Cup by any stretch of the imagination, it will be Woods' first tournament with Dustin Johnson and Fred Couples' former caddie, Joe LaCava. It's one more step back to normalcy for Woods, who needs to be back into a routine to have any opportunity to erase the harm he's done to his world ranking.
There's only so many times Woods can tell us he's working on his new swing or he feels like he's driving the ball better than ever. So far, who would believe him? When he missed the cut at an event where he's NEVER missed the cut, why would anyone think that's true?
So here he is: new swing, new caddie and gearing up for a tournament for the first time in two months. This is a dream come true for Frys.com Open officials, who will have but one storyline all week: How is Tiger doing?
Lots of great players are judged not only by their legendary performances, but by how they overcome adversity. Without a doubt, this has been the largest battle of Woods' career, not only with the other players on the golf course, but with himself. He's slipped all the way to 51st in the world, which seems like a typo. It's true, though, that the rankings say Woods is not currently a better golfer than Ryan Moore, Gary Woodland or Jason Dufner.
It's been nearly two full years since Woods won any event, something basic probability theory would have deemed nearly impossible at the end of the 2009 season. But here we are, still waiting, hoping for golf's version of Michael Jordan to get going again.
He's listed as the individual favorite for this weekend at 7/1, but even that is a stark difference than the odds he once received. It wouldn't have been out of place to see even-money odds to even a negative number (where you receive less than you bet if he wins) for a tournament with a field of this caliber.
If he does manage to finally rediscover his game, it gives the United States a bigger advantage than they already hold over the International Team in November's Presidents Cup. The Americans are already the favorites, but Couples took a worthwhile risk in selecting Tiger with one of his two captain's picks a week ago.
Couples knows that if Woods is the Tiger of recent days, it likely will not hurt his team enough to give away the event. If Woods plays well, however, the International Team has no chance. When one player has that kind of potential impact, it has to be a cinch to select him.
So over the next couple months, we'll see if Woods' decisions pay off. It's to golf's benefit if he resurrects himself into what he once was, and the truly great players always find a way to get back into the spotlight.
Adversity produces great opportunity, and Tiger has the opportunity of a lifetime in front of him. If he could ascend back into the golf's elite, he'd leave no doubt in the argument of the greatest golfer of all time.
The road back to greatness can start this weekend, and all eyes will be on him.