Woods shoots course-record 64, leads Thailand tournament
BANGNA, Thailand (AP) _ Tiger Woods, his game heating up as spectators sought relief from the stifling conditions, shot a course-record 8-under-par 64 today to take the second-round lead in the Asian Honda Classic.
``I felt a lot better today. I’m over the jet lag,″ said Woods, two strokes clear of the field in the Omega Tour event. ``I’m in a good position at the halfway stage, but there are still two rounds to go.″
Woods, whose mother Kultida is a native Thai, had four birdies on the front nine before a gallery of about 3,000 fans. While the tropical heat reduced that number to 1,000 at the turn, Woods rewarded the remaining fans with a a number of dazzling shots.
``This is more exciting than I expected,″ said Pornchai Pelert, a 30-year-old hotelier who was attending her first golf tournament.
Woods, who received a reported $480,000 appearance fee, birdied the 10th, just missed birdie putts on Nos. 11 and 12, and then holed a tricky wedge shot from just off the the green on the par-4 13th to catch the leaders.
The three-time PGA Tour winner dropped a stroke on the par-5 14th, but climbed back to the top of the leaderboard with a birdie on No. 16. He hit his third shot on the par-5 17th within 5 feet to setup another birdie, and closed with yet another precise approach for his ninth birdie of the day.
``He usually is happy to just be in contention during the early rounds and comes on strong to win at the end,″ said Kultida Woods, who wore a tiger-patterned visor as she followed her son around the Thai Country Club.
First-round leader Lee Petters, a British national playing for the United Arab Emirates, was two back at 136 along with American Greg Hanrahan and Mexico’s Carlos Espinosa. Petters shot a 70, Hanrahan had a 66 and Espinosa a 68. Two-time U.S. champion Curtis Strange was eight back after a 74.
In his short stay, Woods will receive a royal decoration, be feted by Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, and be asked to help promote the 1998 Asian Games, a regional Olympic-style competition set for Bangkok.
``This tournament is special because it’s in the land of my mother’s birth,″ Woods said Thursday. ``Thailand has treated us very well. I don’t know why, but I feel like I’m home. I hope I will be back soon.″
The 21-year-old had barely unbuckled his seat belt after a 20-hour flight Tuesday night when television crew broadcasting live on four of the country’s five channels burst into the first-class cabin.
Right behind were politicians, bureaucrats and business executives falling over each other for a chance to be photographed with Woods _ the best-known athlete with Thai origins in the world.
The hectic pace felled Woods in Wednesday’s pro-am practice round, when he quit on the 13th hole, citing heat exhaustion, jet lag and all the attention from his sleepless first night in the country.
But he recovered with a 70 in the first round and attended a private dinner Thursday night, where he was applauded for trying to imitate the intricate hand movements of traditional Thai dancers.
Chingchai Mongkoltham, Chavalit’s sports adviser, said the government considers promoting Tiger ``important for society because we usually have pretty bad news.″
Most Thais are subsistence farmers whose only experience with golf is when their land is expropriated to build courses. Public courses are rare and so are chances for ordinary people to learn the game.
``Our government’s reaction is too much,″ said Thaweep Thiensai, 18, whose views echoed those of many Thais interviewed by The Associated Press. ``They want to give honors to someone who is basically a foreigner, while they do nothing to support our local athletes.″
Maj. Gen. Charouck Arirachakaran, secretary general of the Olympic Committee of Thailand, was quoted in The Nation as saying Tiger is no Somluck Kamsing, a boxer who won Thailand’s first gold medal in Atlanta.
``As far as I am concerned, he (Tiger) is only a half-Thai,″ Charouck said of Woods, who actually is only one-quarter Thai. ``He takes part in every tournament as an American national and there is little positive publicity Thailand can derive out of it. Only his mother is Thai.″