Tiger Woods tees off here Thursday at the US$1.3 million Johnnie Walker Classic here looking to claim his tenth title of the year and end what, by his exceptional standards, has been a frustrating run. The world number one has been in a position to win in his last three tournaments only to be denied by a combination of bad luck and some inspired golf from his rivals. “That’s the way it is. You try to put yourself up there every time you tee up. The ultimate is to be able to put yourself into position and a lot of the time it would depend on the golfing gods,” Woods said. But he shrugged off suggestions that he was feeling the heat following comments he made in Golf World magazine criticising the USPGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem for using and abusing him. “No that doesn’t affect hitting a high draw with a three iron.” And the golfing genius said he was unfazed by the hysteria, both positive and negative that surrounds him wherever he goes. “It’s a responsibility and I accept it … but for me I never lose sight of my main objective which is to play the best I can and win golf tournaments.” If Woods, who won the tournament when it was last played in Thailand two years ago, does not manage to repeat that success, it will not be for a lack of support.
The country has been gripped by Tigermania and tickets for all four days were sold out weeks ago, with most local spectators expected to be rooting for Woods, their adopted son.
The golfing superstar’s mother, Kutilda, is a native Thai and Tiger has never forgotten his roots. “Although I am an American citizen, I am a Thai at heart,” the 24-year-old said in a birthday greetings message last year to Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adukyadej. Incredibly for someone who has won three out of the four majors, Woods believes he could have done even better. “I had high goals and expectations and I went out there to shoot for it. I was able to accomplish some of them but not all. But that’s what you need … to strive for something else.” But winning that all elusive tenth title will by no means be a walkover. Defending champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand is unlikely to relinquish his title without a fight. The 31 year-old Kiwi won the title last year holding off Australian Geoff Ogilvy, South African Ernie Els and Woods to kickstart a year in which he has gone on to claim another four titles. “I feel like my game has gone to the next level to a point that whenever I enter a tournament I can play against some of the best players and have a chance to win,” Campbell said. “My game is sound at the moment and hopefully on Sunday, I’ll hold the trophy again.” World number two Els and Europe’s new number one Lee Westwood both pulled out of the tournament at the last minute. Els is suffering with a bad back while the burly Yorkshireman’s wife is expecting a baby. Nevertheless the flamboyant young Spanish sensation Sergio Garcia will be one of the prime hunters in the pack out to tame the Tiger around the 7007 yard par-72 course at the Alpine Golf and Country club. The 20-year-old Spaniard is keen to renew his sporting rivalry with Woods and prove that the young guns on the other side of the Atlantic are not going to let him have it all his own way. But Garcia admitted that Woods was setting new sights for everyone: “We have to try and keep up with him, so we are all trying to improve … hopefully we will be able to keep up.” And the volcanic dust-eating Swede Jesper Parnevik is likely to want a say in events too. The eccentric 35-year-old who underwent hip surgery in September will be looking to stamp his return to form on the books of the opening European Tour event of the 2001 season. Nick Faldo won’t be short of attention either despite being without a solo tournament victory since March 1997. The 43 year-old Englishman with six majors to his name could well prove a thorn in the side to the latest heir to the golfing throne. But Asia’s home grown talent will be keen to prove to the travelling stars that they can compete with the best. Myanmar’s Kyi Hla Ha, the 39-year-old veteran and Asia’s number one player last season, will lead a strong contingent of proven Asian winners.
Eight of the 32 Asian professionals teeing off Thursday are currently in the top-20 of the Asian PGA Order of Merit and 23 have won 46 titles between them. Notable among them is India’s Arjun Atwal who is surfing a two tournament winning streak after taking the Star Alliance Open in Hong Kong last week.
The 27-year-old Indian, who meditates before every tournament day to focus his mind on the course ahead, is fifth on the Asian PGA Tour’s order of merit but he faces one of his biggest challenges if he is to complete his hat-trick against the world class line-up.
Tiger unfazed by anti-Nike demonstrators
Tiger Woods Wednesday said he was unfazed by protesting former Nike workers who ambushed him in the lobby of his Bangkok hotel. Some 100 sacked employees of the global clothing and footware giant staged an angry protest Tuesday at the exclusive hotel where he is staying.
“Its just the way it is. You can’t fight it. They have their own opinions and they have the things they want to try and accomplish and you can’t stop them from doing that, that’s their right and so be it.” Asked if he was concerned that people were hijacking his image to promote their own causes, Woods said that simply went with the territory. The demonstrators said they were part of a group of 1,016 workers who were still waiting to receive compensation totalling 41 million baht (US$932,000) after being laid off by Nike in September. Woods, whose mother is Thai, would have been expecting a warm welcome in “The Land of Smiles”, where he has been hailed as a hero and accorded honorary citizenship during past visits. But this time he had to be escorted through the noisy protesters by a phalanx of bodyguards and officials as he returned to his room after a brief ceremony where he was conferred with an honorary doctorate in sports science. Nevertheless the world number one said he was delighted to be back in Thailand. “I’ve always enjoyed coming back to Thailand. It’s just nice to be back in front of family and friends.” When asked if he ever expected the hysteria that surrounds him both on and off the course wherever he goes, Woods said: “No one can ever prepare you for that. All you know as a kid is to hit a golf shot and try to win tournaments and beat your heroes. No one thinks about the other side of it.” Pointing at the rows of assembled media the world number one added: “Look at this, this is not what you find for most 24-year-olds on a daily basis.”