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Threats made against New Zealand Open

Days before Tiger Woods' first appearance in New Zealand, police and U.S. Embassy officials said Sunday that the embassy received a letter containing cyanide and threats to disrupt the New Zealand Open.

Assistant police commissioner Jon White 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.''

White said a ``small'' amount of cyanide was in the letter mailed in New Zealand and received by the embassy in Wellington in December. Cyanide, which comes in paste or powder form, is a deadly poison used to kill animals and extract gold from ore in mining. It can only be purchased in New Zealand with a permit.

``The threatening letter was sent to the U.S. Embassy and Israelis were also mentioned in it,'' White said. ``We're talking and working with the diplomatic community and giving them much the same sort of advice as we are the public generally.''

The U.S. Embassy in Wellington released a statement Sunday confirming the cyanide was received and that the letter was immediately passed on to police.

``The U.S. Embassy has been cooperating fully with the New Zealand police on this matter,'' the statement said. ``We are confident that appropriate steps are being taken. In the interests of security and not wanting to prejudice the investigation in any way, we are unable to comment further.''

Embassy spokeswoman Janine Burns would not say whether anyone had become ill from handling the letter.

Although White said Woods' management team had been informed of the threats, Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg of International Management Group, told The Associated Press he was not aware of the letter.

``I've been on the phone with the security people the last couple of weeks,'' Steinberg said. ``If any of it were true, I think I would have heard about it.''

Woods, in Hawaii for the Mercedes Championships, was not immediately available for comment, having left the course after a 1-over 74. Earlier in the round, he said he planned to leave for New Zealand as soon as the tournament ends.

Woods reportedly was paid $2 million to play in the $420,000 tournament that begins Thursday on the at Paraparaumu Beach course. Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, grew up near the course.

When organizers announced that a weekly pass to the tournament would increase in price from $22 to $198, several top New Zealand players threatened to boycott the event.

They said the increase would make it impossible for many New Zealanders, particularly juniors, to see the event. A boycott was avoided when organizers decided to allow youths under 16 to attend free of charge.

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