Tiger Woods Tiger tale: Fans, media the only ones who'll miss Woods at British Open?

The absence of Tiger Woods at this week's British Open was a major topic of discussion Tuesday — even if some players at Royal Birkdale seemed to prefer that the name of the world's No. 1-ranked player not even be mentioned.

Woods, who has finished either first or second in seven of the last eight major championships, is out of action for the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery last month following his dramatic playoff victory in the U.S. Open. With the considerable absence, the door would appear to be wide open for several other players.

Ernie Els joked that the media will have to work harder this week, trying to come up with stories about players other than Woods. Oddsmakers have installed Sergio Garcia as the 8-1 favorite to capture his first major this weekend.

"You've got to really work at it now," Els told reporters, drawing laughs in the media room. "I think you've got to talk about a lot more other players. You've got to talk about the Sergios. You talk about 30, 40 players now that have a chance."

For his part, world No. 2 Phil Mickelson never once uttered Woods' name during an interview session Tuesday, despite several questions about the only player ranked ahead of him. Instead, Mickelson's responses were centered on his own chances for victory.

"I am working hard to get my game ready for this week and I've practiced hard," Mickelson told reporters. "I've developed a good game plan for this event and I am excited to compete against whoever is in the field."

Nothing he could say about Woods?

"Oh, I'm sure I could," Mickelson said. "But right now my focus is, again, this week, as I've got to get my game sharp."

Others seemed more overtly resentful that Woods, despite not even being in the same continent, would still be the subject of questions. Geoff Ogilvy sarcastically joked that he hoped British Open officials have taught the Claret Jug engraver how to put an asterisk on the trophy because the champion won't have to defeat Woods.

"I think we should be talking about the tournament and not somebody that's not here," Lee Westwood told reporters. "As far as I'm concerned, [the British Open] is the biggest tournament in the world. It's bigger than any one golfer, really."

Garcia offered a similar sentiment.

"With all due respect, the Open is bigger than any of us, even Tiger Woods," Garcia said. "And if I happen to never play golf again or Tiger happens to never play golf again, the Open will still be played and that's the most important thing. Nobody is bigger than the tournament itself and it can be a great player, but it doesn't matter.

"If I manage to win this week, I'm not going to go, ‘Oh, I won the British Open but Tiger wasn't there.' I still have the Claret Jug, which is the most important thing."

Still, Els said it's difficult not to recognize the impact of Woods' absence. He admitted that it feels strange not to have Woods in the picture.

"I'm not overly disappointed that he's not here, as a player," Els said with a smile. "For the tournament itself, it's a big blow. And for the golf world, not to have the No. 1 player playing and especially the way he won the U.S. Open — that was amazing — we're definitely going to miss him."

July 16, 2008

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