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Ernie Els believes that Tiger Woods' presence will be felt at Royal Birkdale. (Little/Getty Images)

Superstars ponder what it means for Woods to miss the Open

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Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els have different ideas as to how history will remember the winner of this Tiger-less Open. 

LUSS, Scotland (PA) -- Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els have differing views on the absence of world No. 1 Tiger Woods from the Open Championship.

Knee surgery undergone after his amazing U.S. Open triumph has ruled Woods out for the rest of the season, although Els believes his presence will still be felt at Royal Birkdale.

But Mickelson insists there will be no asterisk next to the name of the winner on the Claret Jug to indicate their triumph was achieved in Woods' absence.

The two find themselves vying for the position of second favorite behind last year's runner-up Sergio Garcia, and also seem at odds over the way the next Open champion will be perceived.

"I still believe the game of golf will live on past Tiger Woods, and past whoever the next best player will be after Tiger," said Els, winner of the Open in 2002 at Muirfield and with three second places and two thirds to his credit. "Although we will miss him, the game of golf is there and the Open Championship will be played whether Tiger is there or not, and I think that's what we've got to realize.

"On the other hand, the best player of this generation is not there and whoever is going to win
is going to have to answer questions of 'do you think you would have beaten Tiger if he was here'?"

Mickelson acknowledged Woods' absence makes life a lot easier for those seeking Open glory, but believes a major winner is not solely defined by who else was in the field.

"I think it opens an opportunity for a number of players to come through and maybe win tournaments that they might not have won," said the world No. 2.

"But if you look back at Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors or Tom Watson's eight, I don't look back at the field they played, I just look back at the tournaments they've won," he added. "I haven't won a major in a couple of years and it would certainly mean a lot to me to win an Open Championship."

Mickelson already has spent much time in the United Kingdom preparing for the Open, both playing the Barclays Scottish Open and playing several practice rounds at Birkdale ahead of the year's third major.

"I think Birkdale is an amazing golf course and I have fond memories of it because it was the first Open I ever played, as an amateur, in 1991," said Mickelson. "I think it's one of the better courses in the UK. I think it's a very fair, fun, difficult test of golf.

"I saw it in three different conditions -- calm, very windy and kind of a medium breeze -- and I think it's going to be a wonderful championship because the course is in immaculate shape and is a very good, fair test."

Mickelson has won twice on the PGA Tour this season and was fifth in the Masters in April, but knows the next part of the season will be vital.

"I took the last three weeks off (before playing the Scottish Open) because I knew I was going to be playing for almost the next three months," added the 38-year-old, who admits becoming a member of the European Tour someday is 'not out of the realm of possibility.'

"It's a very busy spell with this week, next week and then the PGA Championship and I'll be playing nine out of the next 11 or 12 weeks,"
Mickelson said. "But I'm looking forward to this next three months because that will determine how the year went."

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