Take a close look at Tiger Woods this week at Winged Foot.
Enjoy him while he’s here, because this week’s U.S. Open may be one of the last times Woods plays a tournament in the New York metro area.
There won’t be another U.S. Open here until 2026, when Shinnecock Hills hosts again, and Woods will be 50.
The 2022 PGA Championship is scheduled for Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., and the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust FedExCup event returns to Liberty National in Jersey City next year.
That’s about it, though.
Tiger sightings in New York will be rare, which makes it a particular shame that no spectators will be permitted at Winged Foot this week with COVID-19 protocols to get perhaps one final up-close look at one of the greatest players of all time.
Add to that the fact that Woods plays so few tournaments now, protecting his surgically repaired back, and seeing him playing in New York figures to be rare, if at all, after this week.
At age 44, Woods’ form has been completely lacking entering this week — particularly since the PGA Tour restarted its season after the pandemic pause. He’s played in four events since the pause and not been within a sniff of contention once.
In his last event, he finished tied for 51st at the BMW Championship after tying for 58th at the Northern Trust at 6-under par on the same course where Dustin Johnson won at 30-under. Before that, he tied for 37th at the PGA Championship after tying for 40th at the Memorial, which he used to win in his sleep.
Add to that indifferent form the fact that Winged Foot figures to be one of the sternest challenges the players have faced all year — or in years — that doesn’t bode very well for Woods even making it to the weekend.
“This golf course is going to be one of the more difficult ones,’’ Woods said after playing a practice round with Justin Thomas on Tuesday. “The winning scores here have never traditionally been very low. I don’t see that changing this week. The golf course is going to be hard. It depends on how difficult they want to set up these pins, give us a chance at it. But with the forecast, it’s going to be difficult no matter what.
“It’s right up there next to Oakmont and I think Carnoustie as far as just sheer difficulty without even doing anything to it. I think those three golf courses, they can host major championships without ever doing anything to them.’’
Since he won the Zozo Championship in October 2019, what’s been missing for Woods this year?
“I really haven’t putted as well as I wanted to, and the times I did make a few swing mistakes, I missed it in the wrong spots,’’ Woods said. “I’ve compounded mistakes here and there that ended up not making me able to make pars or a birdie run, and consequently I haven’t put myself in contention to win events.’’
Translation: Woods’ superpowers are gone. Long gone.
And, the rest of the players — the PGA Tour is deeper with talent and athletic ability than it’s ever been — have caught up to Woods. No one is intimidated by Woods the way his peers used to be. Many of today’s stars are fearlessly boat-racing him now.
To be fair: Age has caught up to Woods, as it does to everybody.
Age, of course, is the only undefeated force in sports.
“It gets harder to win as we all age,’’ Woods said.
Woods comes to Winged Foot 14 years after missing the cut in the 2006 U.S. Open. He’d just lost his father, Earl, to cancer weeks before and was mentally not even close to in it.
“I was not prepared to play and still dealing with the death of my dad,’’ he said. “When I didn’t win the Masters that year, that was really tough to take because that was the last event my dad was ever going to watch me play. He passed not too long after that, and quite frankly, when I got ready for this event, I didn’t really put in the time, I didn’t really put in the practice, and consequently missed the cut pretty easily.’’
For the sake of New York-area fans who may not get many — if any — opportunities to see him play again in the area, perhaps Woods makes the cut this week, gets four rounds in and possibly even contends.
Enjoy it while it lasts.