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Tiger Woods hasn't played since the U.S. Open last month. (Miralle/Getty Images)

You Know Who's not here, but he is -- kind of

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The world's No. 1 player is not in attendance this week at Royal Birkdale. Still, Tiger Woods is casting quite a shadow, both on the course and in the interview room.

By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

SOUTHPORT, England - He's not here.

But yet he is.

Yes, we're talking Tiger. World No. 1. Best player on the planet. The one-player shortest of short lists every time he tees it up.

And the object of everyone's attention at a major. Even when he's
in Orlando hobbling to the couch on crutches and contemplating the opening moments of rehab.

Some want to dub this an asterisk of a major. You know, one without Tiger. Those folks can't wait for the conjecture to begin Sunday night when someone asks The Champion Golfer of 2008 whether he would have won if you-know-who had been in the field.

Others have been asking players for the past two weeks the ramifications of Tiger's knee surgery. Will it be a chance for others to step up? Will Phil Mickelson take the lead as World No. 2? What's the sport to do for the next two majors?

And, what does it feel like with him not around?

"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," former U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilvy said through a grin. "No, it is what it is. 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 (Championship).

"I mean, the events are bigger than any one guy. He obviously adds to any golf tournament you play, but yeah, it's a shame when he's not playing. But The Open is The Open."

And Tiger? He's around every corner here at Birkdale.

Just glance up on the big screens and you?ll see his face. Highlights from his two Claret Jugs at St. Andrews. The first one completed his first Slam and was part of the ensuing Tiger Slam and that emotional win at Hoylake. That third here at Birkdale in 1998, too. Even if he was a bit player back then.

Open the program. He's in there too. Nice spread. His surgery announcement came too late to pull the story. Then again, he is a three-time champion.

Look around the press room. There are considerably fewer U.S. writers than usual. The reason? The economy and no Tiger. Yet another way to work him into countless conversations every day.

The bookies? They love it. A more balanced betting book with Tiger gone. Again, more things to discuss.

And head to the interview room. By our count, the only player who hasn't been asked what it feels like without Tiger is defending champ Padraig Harrington. In deference, perhaps to the Champion Golfer of this year.

The question is more than fair. After all, Tiger has won 14 majors, which translates to .333 winning percentage. Add in those combined seconds and thirds
-- there have been eight of those
-- and well ...

As Tom Watson said Monday, "You can't learn how to win when Tiger is winning. You can learn how to finish second."

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And now? The word most used to describe the feeling this week is different. You don't see the player of this generation's name on the tee times. He's not drawing huge crowds during practice rounds. And for basically the first time in more than a decade, there's absolutely no chance of his name popping up on the leaderboard, shooting electricity through the crowd and messing with every player's mind.

But make them choke? Ernie Els shook his head.

"Choke is a very strong word in golf, but I think the thought of him around is quite ominous, especially coming down the stretch or even preparing yourself for a last round when he's in the mix," Els said. "You've got your worries, not that other players aren't to worry, but you know this guy, he's going to be in contention at the end of the day. Yeah, there's definitely a thought of him in your mind all the time, yeah."

If you've heard it once this week, you've heard it a zillion times -
golf is bigger than one player. But lord, we do miss what he brings to any table. And, of course, that smile.

Birkdale has hosted seven Opens and Tiger has only played in one. But wouldn't it have been marvelous to watch him battle the unforgiving winds? To see if he could give us a moment to rival Watson's 2-iron to the 18th in 1983?

Yes, that's a thought around here, too. Out of sight, just not out of our minds.

"I think we should be talking about the tournament," Lee Westwood said, "and not somebody who's not here."

Mickelson wouldn't even discuss a thing about Tiger's absence Tuesday. He said he could, yes, but he'd rather concentrate on his game. Can you see tomorrow's Fleet Street headline?

Ogilvy, on the other hand, put Tiger and his dominance into perspective. Yes, he's won 14, but that means he hasn't won 32 others.

"Seven out of 10 that he plays he doesn't win, which is still more often than he does win," Ogilvy said. "I'm sure if Jack took one off in his prime it was talked about. But it seems with more media coverage and more TV and more hype about it now that it's a bigger deal."

And about his U.S. Open win at Winged Foot in 2006? Tiger, still grieving the loss of his father a month before, missed the cut there.

"He started the tournament," Ogilvy said. "I can't help it if he missed the cut."

Yes, he was laughing.

Ogilvy draws inspiration, not resentment from Tiger's dominance.

"I mean, look at how golf is now because of what he's done in the last 10 years," he said. "It's awesome. And it's even better when you're actually I've been lucky enough to win a couple of golf tournaments when he's been there. It's even better to win a golf tournament when he's been there."

It won't much matter Sunday night, at least not to the player hugging the Claret Jug.

Nor to the player holding the Wanamaker Trophy at Oakland Hills next month.

But like it or not, Tiger will still be there -- still out of sight and rehabbing, still in everyone's minds and still making headlines.

And, yes, still No. 1 in the world.

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