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Woods looking forward to links challenge in NZ

Tiger Woods believes a links golf course should have howling wind and extreme conditions, just to make it authentic.

The way things looked Wednesday, the star attraction will probably get his wish when the New Zealand Open begins Thursday.

``That's the whole idea of having a links course -- you've got to have a bit of wind,'' Woods said. ``If the wind doesn't blow, it doesn't feel that way. If the weather they say is coming in, it's going to be quite a challenge.''

Rain started pelting down in the morning at the Paraparaumu Beach course as most of the pro-am competitors, including Woods, were halfway through their rounds.

And northerly wind was forecast -- along with more rain -- for Thursday, when Woods tees off with defending champion David Smail of New Zealand and 1995 winner Peter O'Malley of Australia at 8:55 a.m (3:55 p.m. EST Wednesday).

The wind off the Tasman Sea is a major factor on the 11th and 12th holes where the ocean runs parallel to the course about 225 yards away, although a bank of trees and some houses act as a partial wind-break.

Woods shot a 6-under 65 in the pro-am Wednesday, his first look at all 18 holes.

More than 3,000 spectators followed him around Wednesday, similar to the numbers who were there for his nine-hole practice round Tuesday.

Despite its relative shortness in length -- the par-71 layout is only 6,618 yards -- Woods said the bunker-covered course will pose some problems.

``It's a tough track,'' Woods said. ``The fairways are extremely narrow and domed so it's going to be very difficult to keep the ball in play because you're going to get some weird bounces.''

``With the rough as high as it is you have to drive the ball in play. If you drive the ball out of play, out of this rough you're not going to shoot a very good score.''

He rates the 17th, a par-4 at 442 yards, the toughest. It's also rated by an international golf magazine as among the world's most 50 difficult holes.

The 17th offers two options off the tee -- the right fairway offers a shorter, more direct route but requires a more difficult second shot to the narrowest part of the green. Hitting left off the tee makes the route longer but safer by using the depth of the green with a mid-iron approach.

The choice might be limited depending on which way the wind is blowing. New Zealander Michael Campbell said Wednesday the wind could make a two-shot difference for morning and afternoon starters.

Police divulged for the first time that tournament transportation was specifically mentioned in a threatening letter containing cyanide mailed to the United States embassy in Wellington, 30 miles south of the golf course, in December.

Security at the course was increased again Wednesday during the pro-am. Plainclothes police -- members of the New Zealand tactical squad -- followed Woods' group carrying long green bags containing high-powered rifles.

They have put 24-hour guards on railway tunnels and bridges and have added security on trains that will be running to the golf course from Wellington.


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