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FEATURES HOME

WEB-ONLY EXCLUSIVE
Up Close and Personal with Tiger Woods
A meeting with the world's most famous golfer leaves over 200 fans starstruck
By ROBERT HORN Bangkok

November 18, 2000
Web posted at 8:25 p.m. Hong Kong time, 7:25 a.m. EDT



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Mobile Phones Frustrate Razor Sharp Tiger Woods: Day two of Thailand's Johnnie Walker Classic golf tournament
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

When Tiger Woods steps onto a golf course, he is a man with total tunnel vision. The galleries simply do not exist -- unless some bonehead breaks his concentration with the click of a camera or the ring of a mobile phone as he's about to take his shot. As he walks the fairways, he smiles and jokes with his caddie or his playing partners. But as he steps into the teeing area under the gaze of thousands of adoring spectators just a few feet away, he makes no eye contact, ignores calls of encouragement and puts on a deadpan steelier than his titanium-forged driver. He is as focused, and as oblivious, as a chess master poring over a complex endgame.

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But on Friday afternoon -- at the fourth hole of the Alpine Golf and Sports Club in Bangkok -- 200 fans and 38 junior Thai golfers got a chance to see the greatest show in golf. "Let's make this as interactive as possible," Woods said as he began a clinic for the young hopefuls and fans. This was a different Tiger -- as up close and as personal as you'll ever get. He was charming, engaging, and even tolerant of the occasional intimate question that he won't take from the press.

"Hey Tiger, with your schedule, do you have time for a love life?" someone called out from the audience. There was a split second of silence, a slight ripple of tension. "Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do," Woods said, turning his back and taking a lazy practice-swing with his 8-iron.

Otherwise, he was open and relaxed, explaining and demonstrating his swing techniques and his approach to the game. He made eye contact. He smiled. He laughed. He took requests to show off specialty shots. Contrary to his on-course demeanor, he was completely at ease and at one with the crowd. And he even admitted that despite striking fear into the hearts of competitors, he also feels the fear. "Am I nervous before a tournament?" he said. "You bet. The day I'm not nervous is the day I'm retired."

Even religion came up. Woods is half Thai, and more than 90% of Thais are Buddhist. His mother, Kultida, who was born in Thailand, has often spoke of how Buddhist meditation has helped keep Tiger calm on the course. So one young golfer asked: "Tiger, do you meditate?" "No, that's boring," Woods shot back with a smile, eliciting laughter from the crowd. "I used to meditate a lot more, and I still do when I need to. And yes, I am a Buddhist."

Tiger even uses a slightly Zen technique when pressure is mounting and he's waiting to take a crucial shot. "Sometimes I'll just take my glove off and feel each little seam inside, just focusing on that. It helps take my mind away from the situation. When you're standing over a shot it can be pretty tense. I don't need to be feeling that except at that moment."

Tiger even obliged the crowd by taking a stab at one of his famous trick shots -- the baseball swing he used in a Nike commercial. "When I tried to do this for fans at the British Open, I whiffed every time. I'm determined not to whiff for you today," Woods said. Then he began bouncing a ball on the face of his sand wedge, three, four, five times, flipped it up high, and took a ferocious Mark McGwire rip as the ball came down.

Strike one! There was laughter from the crowd, and Woods, who simply picked the ball up and began again. Bounce, bounce, bounce, flip it up high, cock the club and BANG! The result: a long fly ball over the water and into the parking lot as the crowd cheered and clapped. Just to prove it wasn't a fluke, Tiger picked up another ball and smacked it even further. Then he broke out in a smile, waved goodbye, jumped into his chauffeured limousine and sped off as youngsters and adults alike chased after him.

As he headed back to his hotel to rest and prepare for the final two days of the tournament, Woods was leading the field by one stroke. But for those who were lucky enough to be there on the fourth hole on Friday afternoon, it doesn't matter if Tiger finishes first this weekend or not. This Woods was already a winner.

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