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Reflective Woods looks back and ahead

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SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – This could be goodbye.

Not goodbye, as in retirement, as in Tiger Woods walking away from the game, but this could be his farewell appearance for the season.

This week’s PGA Championship could be the end of his 2014-15 PGA Tour campaign.

If you were looking for a sense of urgency in Woods in his news conference Tuesday at Whistling Straits, you didn’t see it. If you were looking for a stubborn resolve, a back-against-the-wall determination to qualify for the FedEx Cup Playoffs, to salvage something meaningful from this frustrating year, you didn’t see that, either.

In fact, you almost sensed resignation in a man who wouldn’t be sorry to see this miserable season finally end.

Woods just isn’t looking at this week as vital to turning around his year.

“As far as my tournament future, if I play well, I play well, and I’ll play in more events,” Woods said. “If I don’t, then I have more time to practice and get ready for the following events, for next season, and obviously some of the things I do on a global level.”

Woods is sounding more and more like a man coming to new terms with time’s ruthless pull. He’s sounding like he’s beginning to feel old. He talked two weeks ago at the Quicken Loans about how young the faces are on Tour today.

“I’m kind of caught right in between,” Woods said. “This is the generation that grew up watching me play and win tournaments, and the guys that I used to play practice rounds with are all gone. They’re all on the senior tour.

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“You see all these new fresh faces, and you look down the range, you don’t recognize a lot of the guys. But I go watch a Champions Tour event, I know every guy.”

There was a downright nostalgic tone to Woods’ news conference at Whistling Straits. We saw a softer side of Woods at the Masters in his news conference earlier this year, and we saw a wistful side of him here Tuesday at the PGA Championship. He unabashedly reminisced here and there in answers to questions.

From his remembrance teeing it up for the first time as a pro in nearby Milwaukee almost 20 years ago, to the importance of his first PGA Championship victory at Medinah in 1999, to the joy his father brought to the development of his competitive instincts when he was a child, Woods looked back at his career in more sentimental ways than we’re used to hearing.

Asked by Wisconsin media about making his debut in Milwaukee in 1996, Woods warmed to the memory.

“It feels like forever ago,” he said. “It really does. My buddies always kid me, I live in dog years. It just seems like forever.”

He shared remembering how nerves hit him all at once on his backswing hitting his first tee shot as a pro there.

“I was like, `Oh God, I’m so nervous,’” Woods said.

Woods said his first PGA Championship victory at Medinah in Chicago in 1999 was important because it affirmed his major swing overhaul under Butch Harmon.

“To go on and beat Sergio [Garcia] really propelled me into the 2000s and my early part of my career,” he said.

When asked if the game was still fun today, Woods relayed how he learned to love the game as a child playing with his father, Earl.

“I got good enough to where I was about a 1 or a 2 [handicap],” Woods said. “Then he got his game better. I pushed him to get better. He got down to a 1 for the very first time. Then we had some really good matches.

“That’s what I remember of my childhood. It was just so much fun to go out with my dad and play.”

If Woods is going to keep his season going and make the FedEx Cup Playoffs, he needs a victory or second-place finish this week. Or he needs a top-10 finish and then another really strong finish at the Wyndham Championship next week, the last event before the playoffs begin. Woods says whether he even plays Wyndham depends on how he’s faring come Friday this week, the deadline for committing to play next week.

Still, Woods is feeling no pressure to keep this season going.

“I’m not looking at it like that at all,” Woods said. “I’m just trying to get my game better for years to come.”

Woods still has time, but not as much of it. Even he seems to be beginning to be grapple with the inevitability of goodbyes.