SOUTHPORT, England — Phil Mickelson wouldn't bite, no matter how many ways he was asked about Tiger Woods.

So, Lefty, are the majors diminished because a certain No. 1 player — perhaps the greatest ever to swing a golf club — isn't at the British Open?

"I am working hard to get my game ready for this week, and I've practiced hard. I've developed a good game plan for this event, and I am excited to compete against whoever is in the field," Mickelson said blandly.

Strike one.

Can't you say anything about Tiger's absence?

"Oh, I'm sure I could," Mickelson said, tantalizing his audience. "But right now my focus is, again, this week, as I've got to get my game sharp."

Strike two.

Finally, when the call went out for final questions, someone asked Mickelson if he got any sense that other players — not someone as accomplished and experienced as himself, mind you — might feel like they have more of a chance with Woods sitting out the rest of the year recovering from knee surgery.

His response?

"I haven't had a sense either way, no."

Strike three. Thanks for coming, Phil.

During a 12-minute interview session that at times felt like a trip to the dentist, Mickelson steadfastly refused to even say Woods' name Tuesday. It seemed a calculated move, as all things are with Lefty, because he was asked several different ways about the only player ahead of him in the world rankings.

Even from his couch, Tiger has that sort of affect on people, especially the guy who's been chasing him most of his career.

But maybe Mickelson does have other things on his mind, such as a lackluster record in the majors since he gave away the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot on the 72nd hole, costing himself a third straight major and leading Lefty to say of himself, "I'm such an idiot."

Since then, Mickelson hasn't come close to winning another of golf's biggest events. He's on an eight-major winless streak, missing the cut twice — including last year's British Open at Carnoustie — and not finishing within six strokes of the winner even when he did make it to the weekend.

The only major outside the United States has been especially bedeviling for Mickelson, who had to make big adjustments in his game to cope with the challenges of links golf. The high, spinning shots that work so well on aim-and-fire American courses don't turn out nearly a well on the bumpy, windy layouts along the English and Scottish coasts.

Except for 2004, when he finished one stroke out of a playoff between winner Todd Hamilton and runner-up Ernie Els, Mickelson has never been much of a factor on this side of the Atlantic. He doesn't have any other top-10 finishes in 15 career appearances at the British Open, which would seem to indicate he won't be breaking out of his major drought this week.

The results notwithstanding, Mickelson insists he loves this style of golf. He pointed to the 18th hole at St. Andrews, where the green must be reached over — or through — the "Valley of Sin." Some play a high, lofted shot. Some go with a bump-and-run. Some players even use the putter.

"It's that variety that makes links golf so exciting, the need for creativity, because there's so many different ways to play the shot," Mickelson said.

He's also got fond memories of Royal Birkdale, though he hasn't had much success here.

This was the site of Mickelson's first British Open in 1991, when he made the cut as an amateur and finished in a tie for 73rd. He wound up even lower in the standings when he returned seven years later as a pro, shooting 85-78 on the weekend in brutal weather to plummet into a tie for 76th.

"I think it's a very fair test where good shots get rewarded, primarily the 30 to 40 yards short of the green," Mickelson said. "You get much more consistent bounces, so the well-struck shots are rewarded and typically end up about where you would anticipate."

He was ready to talk all day about Royal Birkdale.

Just don't bring up you know who.