Tiger receives rousing N.Z. welcome

Wednesday, January 9, 2002

PARAPARAUMU BEACH, New Zealand -- Tiger Woods didn't have to have a club in his hand to attract applause on his first trip to New Zealand.

Woods received a rousing welcome for his practice round Tuesday at the New Zealand Open. His 4-iron off the 10th tee was cheered by about 3,000 spectators, and a throng applauded after he raked out a bunker.

"I didn't even think I hit it that well," Woods said of the first shot of his practice round at the Paraparaumu Beach Links.

"I don't ever remember that happening, and I've never seen anything like it for a practice day. It was amazing to be part of it."

The New Zealand Open has been marred by turmoil since Woods agreed to play as a tribute to his Kiwi caddie, Steve Williams.

There was controversy over Woods' $2 million appearance fee, along with tickets that were priced 10 times higher than normal. Players threatened to boycott the tournament.

All that seemed minor compared to the latest incident, in which the U.S. Embassy in New Zealand received a letter containing cyanide and a threat to disrupt the tournament.

Jon White, assistant police commissioner in Wellington, New Zealand, said the threats were directed at the tournament, rather than Woods individually, but "it was clear the threats had been made because Woods, the world's No. 1 golfer, was playing."

Woods seemed oblivious to the increased security -- 10-to-12 plainclothes and uniformed police and security guards -- joking with Williams, who grew up near the Paraparaumu course, throughout the round.

Woods, accompanied by his mother, Kultida, and niece, Bau, received a traditional Maori welcome -- a wero, or challenge -- where spear-carrying warriors asked whether he was coming into their territory in war or in peace.

"I don't think anyone's description could have prepared me for that -- to see a haka performed right in front of me," Woods said. "I've only seen it on TV."

Woods' arrival in New Zealand was televised live, adding an almost presidential or royal feel to the occasion.

Woods' warm welcome was cooled later Tuesday when about 30 people protested over working conditions for Nike employees in countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia.

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