ARDMORE, Pa. - Tom Watson said that for most golfers, the opportunity to win a major championship doesn't last very long.
"With exceptions such as Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player,'' Watson said, "the window is a small one -- five, six, seven years.''
Tiger Woods virtually doubled that. He won a Masters in 1997 as a rookie, a U.S. Open in 2008. Now, after he's gone five years without a major title, perhaps that window has closed.
Woods, 37, still believes in himself and that he'll win the four majors he needs to tie Nicklaus' record of 18.
Woods didn't come close this weekend, finishing tied for 32nd Sunday in the 113th U.S. Open at Merion. He put some of the blame on his putter, mentioning his three three-putt greens in the second round.
Woods' 13-over-par 293 not only was his worst Open score as a pro (he was 14 over as an amateur in 1996), but it also was 12 shots behind winner Justin Rose. Woods, one of the favorites after four victories from February through May, ruined even an outside chance with a triple-bogey 8 on the second hole Sunday, when he shot 4-over 74.
"The pins were tough,'' Woods said. "They were trying to protect par. Some of those pins were a step over some of the humps.''
Woods didn't always get his approach shots close to the pins.
"I wasn't as sharp as I'd like,'' he said. "I hit the ball the correct distances most of the time, but they weren't in the correct areas that I'd like to have. I was trying to hit the ball in certain spots, give myself uphill looks, but I didn't quite do that.''
If he didn't like his ball striking or the greens, Woods did like the Philadelphia-area fans who crammed into compact Merion.
"It was more intimate,'' he said. "People were very close to you. Sometimes we get a lot of people, like at Bethpage, but they're so far away from us.''
The question is whether Woods is merely far away from that elusive 15th major or impossibly distant.
Michael Kim, a 19-year-old who just finished his sophomore year at Cal-Berkeley, has been called the next Tiger Woods. This week, Woods might have wished to be Kim, who was at 290, 10 over and three shots ahead of Tiger, and also was low amateur.
"It feels awesome,'' said Kim, who was born in South Korea but grew up in Southern California. Kim shot his worst round of the four, a 76, Sunday.
"I had a difficult ending,'' Kim said, "but the overall week has been an unbelievable experience . . . My game isn't too far away. I'm looking forward to what the future holds.''
So is Tiger Woods.