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WEB-ONLY EXCLUSIVE

Paul Lakatos/AFP.
Tiger Woods poses in front of an elephant at the Johnnie Walker Classic golf tournament in Bangkok.

Tiger Woods Gets Unwelcome Homecoming in Thailand
The world's number one golfer is chasing his 10th victory this year -- but is copping some flak
By ROBERT HORN

November 16, 2000
Web posted at 9:20 p.m. Hong Kong time, 8:20 a.m. EDT


If America loves Tiger Woods, imagine then how Thailand must feel about the world's number one golfer. After all, this is a country whose only world-class athletes have been a handful of (small) boxers. Tiger may be only half-Thai, but he's still the most famous athlete on the planet. And half of something that is the best is better than nothing. So you would think that if there would be any place in the grip of Tigermania, it would be Thailand, right now.

Well, wake up and smell the tom yum goong. Tiger seems to be about as popular in this crisis-hit Southeast Asian kingdom as the International Monetary Fund. Since he touched down in Bangkok on Tuesday to play in the Johnnie Walker Classic golf tournament, Woods has been the target of more vitriolic newspaper editorials, angry "letters to the editor" and internet chat room nastiness than that woman who designed the ballot in Palm Beach, Florida.

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On his first night in town, his luxury hotel was invaded by 100 laid-off Nike factory workers who accused the global clothing and footwear giant -- which is paying Woods $100 million over five years to endorse their products -- of cheating them out of their severance pay. On the Net, Thais have also put the boot in. "There are lots of Thais who have done many things for the country, but nobody cares about them. Instead, some people pay attention to the American Negro who can only putt the ball better than most people do. What good has it made to Thai people? Tiger Woods doesn't even think he's Thai," said one message, typical of most, posted on the Pantip.com chat room. Said another: "I don't feel Woods is a Thai. The fact that he has half-Thai blood is only biological. His mind is totally American."

Say what? This is the same guy who once got in trouble with the black community in America for saying he sometimes felt more Thai than black. He's also cited his Thai Buddhist upbringing as something that keeps him calm and focused on the course. And yet, The Nation newspaper, in its Thursday editorial, said: "To suggest in any way that Thai culture and the Thai way of life is a continuing factor in his golfing greatness is preposterous. This constant reference to him as a Thai hero must surely be embarrassing.'' Maybe it's three years of suffering through an economic disaster, but some people in the Land of Smiles have turned distinctly surly for this visit by Woods.

Let's get something straight: Woods needs to play in Thailand like he needs the 17th hole at Valderrama. Nonetheless, he chooses to play in the land of his mother's birth, and plenty of Thais want to see him. Tickets for the four-day tournament sold out in no time and on Thursday more than 12,000 spectators turned up. Woods has always done well on his second-home turf, winning the Asian Honda Classic by 10 strokes in 1996 and defeating Ernie Els in a playoff to take the Johnnie Walker Classic in 1998.

Woods, however, was anything but hot when he teed off in Bangkok at the par-72, 6989-yard Alpine Golf and Sports Club on Thursday. Despite having nine victories under his belt, including three consecutive majors, and more than $9 million in prize money, this year alone, his game was slightly off and his performance in his last two outings were less than perfect.

Woods, playing with defending champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand, and Asian Golfer of the Year Kyi Hla Han of Burma, was uneven on the front nine. He bogeyed before he birdied, flubbing the par-3, 198-yard third. "I bladed my chip then missed a 12-foot downhill putt," he said. He came back with a birdie on the par-4, 376-yard fourth, and birdied both the par-5, 555-yard seventh, and par-4, 441-yard eighth. But he faltered on the ninth. His 2-iron off the tee landed in the left-hand rough. Then, using a sand wedge, his approach shot fell short of the green and rolled down a steep embankment. Once again, he bladed his chip shot and it died on the fringe, leaving him a 15-foot putt for par that he left short by about a foot.

At the clubhouse turn he was one-under par and trailing leader Wayne Smith of Australia, who was 7-under. "I thought this course played pretty hard. But then I got eight birdies. So that's a surprise," Smith said. He was followed by Australian Paul Gow, with a 6-under-par 66, and former British Open champion Paul Lawrie who shot a 5-under-par 67.

Woods steadied himself on the back nine, never bogeying while birdying the par-3 12th, the par-5 14th and the par-5 17th. He missed a birdie on the 18th when another 12-foot putt rolled just right. Woods finished with a 4-under-par 68 to put him in a tie for fourth, three shots back of the leader. "I made some errors I don't usually make, but on the whole, when you finish in the high 60's, you have to be pretty happy with that," Woods said later. Even if some Thais aren't too happy with him.

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