SOUTHPORT, England — Players have downplayed the absence of Tiger Woods at the 137th British Open at Royal Birkdale this week. "It's bigger than any one golfer," Lee Westwood and others said in lockstep.
Second-ranked Phil Mickelson steered around the subject of the ghost hovering over this Open, but his questioner pressed on: "You can't say anything about Tiger?"
"Oh, I'm sure I could," Mickelson said, prompting laughter.
Then Geoff Ogilvy came into the interview room and said, with tongue only half in cheek: "I just hope they've taught the engraver how to put an asterisk on the trophy."
There was an audible gasp in the media room.
"No, it is what it is," Ogilvy continued. "Tournaments feel better when he's here, for sure. If any tournaments can stand up strong when he's not around, it's this one and the U.S. Open and the Masters and the PGA. I mean, the events are bigger than any one guy."
Ah, that's more like it.
Welcome to the first week of golf's Asterisk Era, where the media want to talk about He Who Isn't Here, and the players, absent Ogilvy, are desperate to change the subject.
Woods is out for the rest of this season with a surgically rebuilt left knee, leaving the game looking pale and sick. Does anyone care anymore? Shall we cancel the rest of the season?
Then again, the absence of the greatest player the game has ever seen may be a much-needed spark for a guy like Ogilvy, the newly anointed world No. 3, whose best finish in the British Open is a tie for fifth in 2005.
"Birkdale just seems to set up well for the Australians," said Craig Parry, who will be the first player to tee off at 6:30 a.m. Thursday. "There's openings in front of the greens and you can run the ball in. It's a little similar to the courses we have back at home."
Case in point: At the 1991 Open at Birkdale, Aussies Ian Baker-Finch (first), Mike Harwood (second), Parry (eighth) and Greg Norman (ninth) were in the mix Sunday.
Ogilvy's use of the "A" word (asterisk) was surprising given that it was unprompted. In fact, he said, there should be an asterisk next to the names of players who have won in part by fending off a hard-charging Woods.
"There's no doubt that starting Sunday, if he's in contention and you're in contention, it's a harder tournament to win," Ogilvy said. "Anyone who says it isn't is denying something that's pretty obvious."
Ogilvy has in fact won with Woods in the mix, most notably at the CA Championship at Doral earlier this year, when he played the first 36 holes with Tiger, and outplayed him.
In his last 10 starts, Ogilvy has a win (Doral) and six other top-15 finishes, which makes him perhaps the game's second hottest player. The hottest player isn't here.
Kenny Perry is sizzling after his third victory in his last five starts Sunday, when he won a three-man playoff at the John Deere Classic. But he will play in Milwaukee this week because, he says, he isn't a British Open kind of guy.
"It's not the decision I'd make," Ogilvy said. "But I'm not in my last two years on Tour and doing my farewell tour to PGA Tour events."
Perry would have had a hard time pushing this Open onto page A1 in the States and elsewhere. Something crazier, like then 17-year-old Justin Rose holing out at the last to finish fourth at Birkdale in 1998, will have to happen to match the kind of electricity Woods brings to a major.
"I'm pretty sure anyone who was on the 18th green when Justin finished in '98 would say there was probably more electricity there than at Torrey Pines a month ago," Ogilvy said. "You just don't know what story, what 17- or 18-year-old guy could nearly win the Open this week. I mean, anything can happen in this tournament."
For electricity's sake, let's hope it does.