Sometimes it sounds as if even Tiger Woods wonders if he's a creaky VHS superstar in a zoom-zoom iPad world.

He's a 36-year-old tour warhorse now, not the latest-greatest; that's just a middle-aged fact.

And Woods looks at the whippersnappers in the field at this U.S. Open at Olympic Club -- including 14-year-old Andy Zhang -- and just shakes his head about how much things have changed.

"I grew up in an era with VHS and you always had to adjust the tracking (to watch and analyze your swing)," Woods said at his news conference Tuesday. "So you never really got the exact positioning of it.

"These kids are now bringing out iPads to the range and watching their swing and breaking it down on the V"'1 (video analysis)."

Kids these days!

This, of course, is not to say that Woods has already faded into irrelevance and is ceding center stage to the next generations.

He's still the favorite to win this tournament -- or any tournament -- and Woods continues to insist that he still has every chance to win the five majors it will take to surpass Jack Nicklaus' all-time career record.

But that's the point for Woods: These days, it's not about flash and crashing dominance.

It's about sustaining, surviving and enduring, through his late-30s, into his 40s and for as long as possible.

Woods won a few weeks ago at the Memorial -- his second this year -- and says he did things there that proved to him he's more ready to win a major now than he has been in years.

He showed a little flash of that Tuesday, when he used driver to blast a towering tee shot onto the 288-yard par-four seventh green, ending up about 10 feet from the hole.

Woods hasn't won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, a period of 14 consecutive majors without a victory but with a divorce, a tabloid scandal of epic proportions, major surgeries on his leg and knee and massive swing changes.

Maybe that's why Woods looked so especially pleased to see 71-year-old Billy Casper moments before the news conference, and went straight over to give him a hug filled with genuine respect and affection.

And maybe that's why Woods could playfully grab the long-putter of former Stanford teammate Casey Martin during Tuesday's practice round and take a swipe with it.

Tiger using an old-man putter?

"The future Tiger Woods!" Martin shouted merrily to the crowd around the fifth green as Woods cracked up.

This isn't a new Tiger Woods, it's just the version that is seeing his own golfing mortality, and fighting like hell to stave it off for as long as possible.

Ask him if he needs to win a major to end the questions about his ability to get back to the top of the mountain, and you hear Woods in full survival mode.

"I think even if I do win a major championship, it will still be, 'You're not to 18 yet,' or, 'When will you get to 19?' " Woods said. "It's always something with you guys.

"I've dealt with that my entire career, ever since I was an amateur and playing all the way through and to professional golf, it hasn't changed."

He wins less, but he still has the drive to win everything, including the 2012 U.S. Open, and he also knows even a VHS superstar like him has a finite number of chances.

He might have three or four prime years left, he might have a decade or more; but at some point, Woods' window will close. It's closing now.

"Well, Jack did it at 46, right?" Woods said, referring to Nicklaus' last major victory. "So I've got 10 (years).

"(Tom) Watson almost pulled it off at 59. It can be done. We can play for a very long time. ... Look how many guys are 50-plus still playing out here."

Which all fits into the mindset for these four rounds at Olympic Club's Lake Course -- guaranteed to be as tight, tricky, diabolical and difficult as ever.

The testing is the good part -- for the premier survivors.

Woods, in a mega-featured group with longtime rival Phil Mickelson and Masters winner Bubba Watson on Thursday and Friday, said there's not likely to be a lot of chatter.

Instead, it will be about grinding and gutting it out. Those are things Woods admires and those are things that the middle-aged Woods has to embrace.

That's what connects Woods' past to his present and future, and that's why Woods spoke with such fervent warmth when asked about playing the round with Martin, who famously is still battling a serious leg condition.

"That's what makes him so different than everyone else -- he has such a strong will and such a strong spirit," Woods said of Martin.

In some ways, Woods could have been saying that about himself -- or what he knows will be demanded from now on and into a long, draining, willful and enduring future.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.