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IS the US Open missing the wounded Tiger more than he's missing it?

So far this week, Congressional Country Club, venue for the 111th US Open, has exuded as much atmosphere as the Phoenix Park on a Bank Holiday Monday morning.

No man's bigger than a Major but Woods clearly comes close.

While this fabled venue on the doorstep of Washington DC was fairly empty for the practice rounds, it's likely to echo with roars of excitement when the action starts for real this morning.

In Tiger's absence, maybe Mickelson Mania will grip Congressional.

The American golf icon plays with Rory McIlroy in the marquee group and shares star billing this week with the young Ulsterman, whose remarkable dignity in defeat at Augusta probably won more hearts than victory ever could.

Talk about putting all your eggs on one tee box.

Of the 35,000 people expected to flock to today's first round, the majority surely would choose to follow Mickelson, McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, another box-office player who was the fall guy behind Graeme McDowell at Pebble Beach last June and Martin Kaymer in the US PGA.

The crush at the fairway ropes should feel almost like old Tiger times at the US Open... but not quite.

For Woods is irreplaceable, no matter that he hasn't come close to matching his previous brilliance since winning his 14th Major, the US Open, on one leg at Torrey Pines three years ago.

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As Tiger nursed his ailing Achilles and wounded knee at home in Florida last night, David Feherty cast a searing light on the lonely place in which golf's greatest player finds himself right now.

Bangor-born but now enthusiastically American, Feherty's the clown prince of US fairways... but when the subject turned to Tiger, the joking stopped in the Washington theatre where Feherty had been giving a preview of his upcoming new TV show on the Golf Channel.

"You know, I miss Tiger. I think a lot of people miss him -- and not just the golfer," explained Feherty, who developed a close rapport with Woods after walking so many fairways with him as an on-course commentator with TV network CBS.

Asked if he'd invited Tiger to come on his new show, Feherty said: "I've made an effort and so far have not been successful. I'd like to interview him in his new place. First of all, he needs some serious PR and it'd not be an unintelligent thing to do, to talk to me in this forum.

"I don't think anybody possibly could understand how he feels at the minute because nobody's ever been where Tiger's been and then has come down to where he is now," Feherty continued.

"The level of frustration and disappointment he must feel. I can't think of another athlete who has gone through such a thing. It'd be very, very easy to feel hard done by and (feel like) the world is against you.

"I suspect he doesn't feel like that but I know he's like a badger in a set right now and he's not coming out for anybody... not for me anyway."

Feherty believes the media in general shares responsibility for Tiger's demise, saying: "I'm sorry we hammered on him so much. Whatever we did to him, we forced him into a hole.

"It's not all our fault," he went on. "Obviously, you've got to stand up and deal with these things. The worst thing in the world is not being Tiger Woods. It was okay for a long time and it probably still is okay.

"We expect so much from him but, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter whose fault it is."

What question would he ask Woods? "I'd ask if he could change one thing in his life what would it be," Feherty replied. "I'd ask him if he confused fun with happiness and thought they were the same thing.

"I'm an addict (Feherty's battle with alcohol is well publicised) and that's what I did. Fun and happiness are entirely different. Addicts are always getting those two things mixed up. What happens when you confuse fun and happiness? You get unhappiness."

Of course, Woods is expected back for the British Open at Royal St George's next month... but, so far this week, Congressional has been an eerily quiet place without him.

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