Even Woods is uncertain how his game will react
The highly anticipated return of Tiger Woods at the US Masters from a self-imposed exile of almost five months has raised one burning question among his peers and many of the fans.
Can the greatest player of this generation, and arguably of all time, win a 15th major title with his game showing obvious signs of rust and his emotional state of mind questionable after his spectacular fall of grace at the end of last year?
Time will tell once the tournament starts on Thursday, and perhaps even Woods is uncertain how his game will react under the pressure of again trying to contend for a major.
He has not played competitively since winning the Australian Masters on November 15 following revelations at the end of last year he had had a string of extra-marital affairs.
Image: Tiger Woods
Tiger's comfort level at Augusta will be an advantage
Perhaps the biggest factor, though, in the world number one's favour is his huge comfort level at Augusta National where he has triumphed four times.
Woods is ideally suited to the par-72 layout, which was stretched to a formidable 7,445 yards for the 2006 Masters, making it the second-longest course in major championship golf at the time.
The 34-year-old American is among golf's biggest hitters, has a superbly creative short game and is arguably the best putter of all time from inside 15 feet.
Augusta's biggest challenge comes on the slick, severely sloping greens and Woods has become well acquainted with their nuances since making his Masters debut as an amateur in 1995.
Image: Tiger Woods
'He's the best player in the world ... and he will do well'
On Monday, he played 18 holes of practice with 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples who could easily envisage the prospect of Woods slipping into a fifth green jacket on Sunday.
"Tiger is swinging very well," Couples told reporters after he and Woods had toured the heavily contoured layout with huge galleries trailing in their wake.
"He's the best player in the world ... and he will do well here at Augusta.
"His intimidation factor is always there but you have to play good golf and he hasn't played much," added the American, himself a former world number one.
"It would be crazy for me to say he's not going to so well but it would be crazy for me to say he's the guy to beat because he hasn't played competitive golf for four or five months.
"If he's in the lead on Sunday, he'll have no problem. If he's not, he'll say: 'Well, this is what I need to work on'."
South African Ernie Els, one of the hottest players in the game after winning twice in his last three PGA Tour starts, also felt Woods was capable of clinching victory on his return.
"Tiger is just a different player," the three-times major winner said. "He's the one guy who probably could make a success, but it will be tough."
Britain's Luke Donald, who set off for a practice round a couple of hours after Woods and Couples had teed off at the par-four first, agreed.
"It is tough to get back into the playing routine," Donald said. "As much as you practise out on the range, it's not quite the same as being out on the course.
"But I am sure Tiger feels ready, he wouldn't be back here otherwise."
Image: Tiger Woods with Fred Couples
'It's all about where Tiger's mind is'
British Open champion Stewart Cink scoffed at the notion Woods might struggle to shake off the rust in his game at Augusta National.
"We're talking about Tiger Woods, the best player that's ever played golf," the American said.
"I've seen the players who are usually in that conversation. I've never seen anybody that plays golf like Tiger Woods does. So yes, I believe he can be a factor (at the Masters)."
Undoubtedly the biggest obstacle for Woods to overcome this week will be the mental challenge following his so-far unsuccessful attempts to repair his marriage.
"It's all about where Tiger's mind is," mental coach Dr Joe Parent, who helped Fijian Singh become world number one in 2004, said.
"How much can he let everything that's off the golf course stay off the golf course, and not encounter the flickerings of hope and fear that many of his colleagues are used to but he hasn't experienced before?"
Image: Tiger Woods