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Assurances given over safety at NZ Open

Aware of a threatening letter containing cyanide sent to the U.S. Embassy in New Zealand, Tiger Woods said Sunday he had no plans to withdraw and was assured by tournament officials they would do everything possible to keep it safe.

``Things like this do happen,'' Woods said after finishing the Mercedes Championships with an 8-under-par 65. ``You have to go on living your life. It's unfortunate that people have these types of views and do these types of acts.

``I'm going to go down there and enjoy myself and try to play like I did today.''

Police and U.S. Embassy officials said the embassy received a letter last month containing cyanide and threats to disrupt the New Zealand Open, where Woods is playing.

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.''

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.

Woods was headed to the hotel for a swim and a quick workout before taking his private plane to New Zealand. Asked if he was still going, he said, ``Definitely.''

``The tournament officials have done a wonderful job of organizing the event,'' he said. ``They assured me that everything is going to be safe and they'll do the best they can, not only for myself but for the rest of the players and all the people that come out to the tournament.''

White said Israelis also were mentioned in the letter.

``We're talking and working with the diplomatic community and giving them much the same sort of advice as we are the public generally,'' he said.

Woods said this was not the first threat he has received since Sept. 11, although he declined to name the others.

He said he first learned about it a week ago.

Mark Steinberg, his agent at IMG, said Saturday night that he was unaware of the letter. Steinberg said Sunday that he knew about it the week after Christmas, but wanted to contact tournament officials before confirming.

He will accompany Woods to New Zealand.

``As with all overseas events, we take a great deal of precaution to ensure Tiger's safety,'' Steinberg said. ``Since the threat, we have stepped up security even more and we're very comfortable with how the tournament, police and FBI have handled it.''

Joe Corless, a former FBI agent who heads security on the PGA Tour, said the incident likely will not affect other tour events.

``We've updated all our security since Sept. 11. We're trying to anticipate any contingencies,'' Corless said. ``So, the threat in New Zealand at this point would not require any changes to our current security procedures.''

Woods is playing in New Zealand for the first time as a tribute to his caddie, Steve Williams, who grew up near the Paraparaumu Beach course. Woods also is getting a $2 million appearance fee.

His presence already has led to controversy. Several players initially balked at playing because tournament officials raised ticket prices from $22 to $198 for a weekly pass, saying that would keep New Zealanders from attending.

A boycott was avoided when organizers decided to allow youths under 16 to attend free of charge.

``It's going to be an interesting week as it with, with Stevie down there in his hometown,'' Woods said. ``Everyone's got a buzz about it.''

When told of slow ticket sales, Woods shrugged.

``I can't sit at the ticket office and answer phone calls for tickets,'' he said. ``Generally, ticket sales are always going to be a little bit more expedient once the week starts.''

While in New Zealand, Woods said he plans to watch his caddie race cars.

Williams will be competing in the Wellington Saloon Car Championship, a dirt-car race around an oval in which cars can reach a top speed of about 130 mph.

Williams said he has won seven or eight times out of 20 races this year. He doesn't compete enough to qualify for the season championship.

``Caddying keeps getting in the way,'' he said.


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