Waiting for the Open
Thursday and the start of the British Open can’t come fast enough. Then, and maybe only then, the main topic of conversation will be the Open Championship and not the absent you-know-who. Let’s be blunt. Major championships have made Tiger Woods. He has won an astonishing 14 of them. Tiger Woods did not make the major championship. They were here long before Woods and will be around long after him, probably.
A surprising mix of players and media get it, and don’t get it.
None summarized it more accurately than John Hopkins, who concluded his piece in The Times with this kicker: “There have been eight Opens at Royal Birkdale, seven without Tiger Woods. The ninth will be without him, too. So what?” Sergio Garcia, perhaps not surprisingly since he’s definitely not an FOT (Friend Of Tiger), doesn’t think Tiger’s absence is ultimately significant. Here’s how he was assessed by Tim Glover in The Independent:
"There was, of course, the inevitable rider yesterday. If Garcia finally becomes a major conquistador he would have triumphed without crossing swords with Tiger. 'It doesn't matter,' he said. 'With all due respect the Open is bigger than any of us, even Tiger Woods. And if I 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. 'You know, if I manage to win this week, I'm not going to go "Oh, I won the Open but Tiger wasn't there". I would still have the Claret Jug.'" Arguably the most revealing player comment to come out of Royal Birkdale on Tuesday was from Ernie Els, ...
... who spoke what everyone believes but no one else will admit -- that
Tiger’s mere presence affects opponents. Here’s what he said, courtesy
of Martin Greig in The Herald, who described Els as “positively chipper” that Woods isn’t playing:
"'I'm not overly disappointed that he's not here," grinned the
South African. "The thought of him around is quite ominous, especially
coming down the stretch or even preparing for a last round when he's in
the mix. There's definitely a thought of him in your mind all the time…
You're talking about 30-40 players who now have a chance. I think Tiger
is so far ahead in the race and we've kind of sagged back a little bit.
Phil Mickelson is still the true No. 2 in the world. But there's quite
a lot of players in the mix to really stake a claim to be a favourite.
In golf anyone can win… It's an interesting championship. For once I
think everybody can be excited." Of course, not everybody will be excited. Members of the media may
miss Woods the most, which is somewhat ironic. Even though Woods is the
most guarded and reclusive great player since Ben Hogan, writing about
him (or televising him) brings a great sense of importance to that
work. Writers won’t admit it, or don’t even think about it, but
covering Woods makes their stories historically more relevant and
currently more newsworthy -- and in their eyes, therefore, better.
This ties in with my belief that while Tiger has brought a lot of
added attention to the game, what he’s really done is create Tiger
fans. They’re not the same as golf fans. There are plenty of members of
the media guilty of that, too. If Tiger isn’t playing, the tournament
isn’t noteworthy in their eyes.
Steve Elling of CBSSports.com, under the headline, “Without Tiger, Birkdale loses much of its bite,” went with a slightly naughty pun that you have to like in regard to Tiger’s absence: “Most of the guys in the field this week have a message for
anybody who feels the British Open has been devalued because of the
absence of a certain player. Kiss my asterisk. Australia's Geoff
Ogilvy, No. 3 in the world and ranked at least as highly on the global
glibness scale, broached the subject without much prompting this week
at Royal Birkdale. 'I just hope they've taught the engraver how to put an asterisk on the
trophy, then everyone will know what the tournament was all about,'
Ogilvy said, dripping enough sarcasm to fill the Claret Jug.'"
Elling’s own conclusion: “Minus Woods, an air of stress and
anticipation is gone, because the greatest closer in the history of the
game is watching from his couch in Orlando.” Actually, you might be able to make a case for an asterisk. Woods,
the greatest ever, isn’t there. Neither is Kenny Perry, the hottest
player in the world with three wins. He’s teeing it up in Milwaukee
this week. Luke Donald, No. 21 in the world, is out with a wrist
injury. Adam Scott, ranked fourth, admits he’s still bothered by the
pinky finger he hurt when he slammed a car door on it before the U.S.
Open. Defending champion Padraig Harrington has an injured wrist and may not play.
Geez, is anybody left? The answer is yes, of course. That’s why we
need Thursday to arrive. Once the golf begins, the players who aren’t
here won’t matter anymore. The golf will.