PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. --Ten years ago was the spring, five years ago high summer, and now we are here, at the 2010 U.S. Open, in the autumn glow of Tiger Woods' golfing dominance.
OK, yes, Woods is still only 34, so this is very early in autumn.
We could get another Woods torrid spell at any moment, possibly starting Thursday at this most favored Woods course and tournament.
His swing is rounding into form, his touch is coming back, and, if anything, after the rugged months of personal scandal and so-so play, Woods should be more motivated now than ever to squash all foes.
"For some reason," Woods said with light sarcasm at his news conference Tuesday, "people are very curious about my life."
Most of that, of course, is nobody's fault but his.
He won so many tournaments so spectacularly, got so famous and so rich, and then threw it all into tumult with his own tawdry and mostly unexplained behavior.
So it was no surprise that he was asked Tuesday: Any resolution to your relationship with your wife, Elin?
"That's none of your business," Woods said icily, and there were no more personal questions proffered.
Fair enough. But what happens on the golf course is everyone's business, and there are signs that Woods may have already achieved most of what he ever will.
And that the golf world -- maybe even Woods himself -- has begun to think of his peak greatness in retrospect.
For instance: Woods' record 15-stroke victory in 2000 at Pebble, when Woods was 24 and everything was possible for him.
"In 2000, it was the greatest performance I've ever seen in the game, to shoot 12"'under by Tiger," said Phil Mickelson. "That was the best ball"'striking and the best putting tournament that's ever been performed, in my opinion."
That was 10 years ago. Five years ago, Woods, at 29, won his third Masters and his second U.S. Open, to put him at 10 career major titles.
And now, after multiple leg surgeries, a creaky neck, a trip through the tabloids and no majors since the Open at Torrey Pines in 2008, there's little thought that Woods can approximate what he did here 10 years ago.
What's possible now? Woods has 14 majors and hearing loud chatter that many of golf's all-time greats won few or no majors once they hit their mid-30s.
"I've probably got another week in me," Woods said in jest.
Then he turned serious.
"No, I love it, I love playing," Woods said. "And I love practicing. And once that starts going away, when I start not wanting to go get ready or I'm not ready to play, then I've got to get the hell out."
On Tuesday, Woods played a partial practice round with Joseph Bramlett and Arjun Atwal, quitting after hitting his tee shot on No. 13 due to the torturously slow pace of play.
Woods looked to be striking the ball cleanly and was in good humor despite the 10- and 15-minute waits on each tee box.
Two weeks ago, he finished tied for 19th at the Memorial, a significant improvement after his previous two outings: Withdrawing from the Players Championship with a sore neck and missing the cut at Quail Hollow.
"Way different, way different," Woods said of his readiness now compared to the days leading up to the Masters in April, when he tied for fifth.
"I've played so much more since then. I only had a few weeks to get ready for Augusta after being off for quite a while. Now I've been playing tournament golf basically since April."
But Woods could lose his world No. 1 ranking this weekend if Mickelson finishes third or better (and Woods does not).
Even if the rankings don't flip this weekend, with Mickelson playing confidently and a large contingent of younger talents zooming up the rankings, it's no longer a matter of everybody else frantically chasing Woods.
It's a matter of Woods, at less than his best, trying to hold everyone off.
On Thursday and Friday, Woods will be challenged just within his group--he's paired with Ernie Els and Lee Westwood.
"Whether it's Westwood or Ernie, who I'm playing with, or some of the new young guys, Rory (McIlroy) or Ryo (Ishikawa), there's a lot of kids and a lot of guys now who are playing well at the same time," Woods said. "And then obviously you have Phil there."
He sees what's out there. He's trying to stay on top. But his greatest days are mostly behind him, now that he's a Tiger in autumn.