Ogilvy relishes role of man in the middle

Updated: August 19, 2006, 8:37 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

MEDINAH, Ill. -- It sounds like the greatest contest ever:

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have never before played together in the first round of a major, but they will at the 88th PGA Championship -- and you can join them! Compete with the 2006 major champions on beautiful Medinah Country Club in front of thousands of adoring fans!*

The golfing dream of a lifetime? Absolutely. Of course, there's that dreaded asterisk at the end of the statement, the proverbial fine print in the disclaimer. It reads:

*Contest winner also must claim U.S. Open title in current calendar year.

Such is the tale of how Geoff Ogilvy, who earned his first major victory at Winged Foot two months ago, eliminated all competition to become the third wheel in Woods and Mickelson's date with destiny Thursday, a wedding crasher at the union of one of professional sports' hottest current rivalries.

"The fans have been waiting to see those two play together in a major for a while," Ogilvy said after the round. "And I got the best seat in the house, so it was fun."

If the first round were an election, Ogilvy would have been a third-party candidate who garnered 1 percent of the vote.

As Woods worshippers and Phil fanatics crowded the grassy patches outside the ropes -- 10, 15, even 20 deep in some places -- craning their necks in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the icons, the Ogilvy obsessives were few and far between, but not completely AWOL from the day's proceedings.

"There were a few 'Go Phil! [cheers] and 'Go Tiger!'" Ogilvy said, "but a few 'Go Geoff!' [also].

"I think I may have some legitimate fans out there. Not as many as Tiger or Phil, but a few."

Ever the unobtrusive sportsman, Ogilvy has held the title of major champion without, in some respects, basking in the glow of being one. He was, you'll recall, the beneficiary of blunders by Mickelson, Colin Montgomerie and Jim Furyk on the U.S. Open's final hole. Even when he triumphs, others steal the spotlight -- whether they want to or not. On Thursday, he got a little taste of the high life.

"The media presence, the photographers were just incredible. I didn't know there were that many cameras in Illinois," Ogilvy said in his usual dry wit that seems to draw more supporters with each step to the podium. "It was unbelievable. Different from my normal Thursday morning tee time anyway. Quite normal for [Woods], but quite big for me."

It is tradition that the champions of the three previous majors compete together for the opening 36 holes at the PGA each year, so Ogilvy needn't apologize for intruding on the party. Whereas Tiger and Phil rank 1-2 on the World Ranking, the reigning U.S. Open champ checks in at a pretty fair No. 8 himself. Need more confirmation that he is quite the equal of his two playing partners? Just look at the first-round scorecard:

Woods: 3-under 69
Mickelson: 3-under 69
Ogilvy: 3-under 69

That's right, the man some suggested would wilt in the limelight, his nerve endings frayed beyond repair, played just as well as the more popular duo.

Wait. Check that: He played better.

While Woods and Mickelson each made the turn at 2-under and cruised into the clubhouse, Ogilvy had to work a little harder for his score. He was 1-over through seven holes, but birdied five of the next nine (and made one bogey) to keep pace with his fellow competitors.

"After seven holes, I was just in bad shape," said Ogilvy, who dropped three strokes in a three-hole span at one point. "But there are a lot of people who have been 1-over after seven holes who have won major championships, so I just looked at it that way."

Like Woods and Mickelson, Ogilvy knows a thing or two about winning these things. Still, he couldn't help but divert attention toward his playing partners after the round.

"It would be very hard to say that one of them isn't going to be there right at the end," Ogilvy said. "Probably both of them are going to be close.

"If I come in with the same score as them at the end of every day, I'm going to be in good shape."

In the current state of professional golf, it's Tiger's and Phil's world -- everyone else is just living in it. On Thursday, Ogilvy had a bird's-eye view. As he said: "I was just along for the ride."

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.