Certainly the cries of "Tiger, Tiger, Tiger" from the galleries that followed Woods in Bangkok indicated that his appeal was genuine. "Tiger has some American characteristics, but his behavior is more Thai," says his cousin Vachira Poonswat, a 38-year-old who builds swimming pools and lives in Bangkok. "He is shy, and the people see his smile, his smiling eyes and the peace he carries with him, and he is like them. Yes, he is darker, but there is no color in Thailand. We judge each person by his behavior." That attitude is the reason Woods feels at home in Thailand. "I don't get the hard looks here that I sometimes get in the States," he says. "The Thai people are kind, and I feel more accepted."
Unfortunately Woods was left with little time to do more than play golf, attend functions and sleep, which is also getting to be his pattern at Tour events, where he's mobbed whenever he's out in public. In private his movements have become increasingly slow, as if he's saving his energy. "I know he's 21 and he's going to be absolutely great, but I'm not sure I would trade places with Tiger Woods," says Mark O'Meara, who is Woods's neighbor in Orlando and beat him the week before at Pebble Beach.
Woods came to Bangkok worn out by the effort of his 63-64 finish in the AT&T, the extra attention he drew by having Kevin Costner as his amateur partner and a stomach ailment that turned mean in midair. From the time the Thai Airways 747 left Los Angeles on Monday morning to the time it touched down at Don Muang Airport, 20 hours later and deep in the Bangkok night, Woods ate next to nothing. But when the cabin doors opened, officials and television crews piled into the first-class cabin and began filming a startled Woods. The scene was carried live on four of Bangkok's five TV stations. When one reporter stuck a microphone in Woods's face and asked if there was anything he wanted to say to the Thai people, a disoriented Woods answered, "I'll sign everything outside."
The first person on the plane to greet Woods was his mother, who had been in Thailand since Jan. 21. After the two embraced, Tiger immediately questioned Kultida about what she had said on Seetoom Square, a popular TV talk show in Thailand. Before leaving the U.S., Woods had read that Kultida had told viewers that she would demand that he marry a Thai woman. "He said, 'Mom, did you say that? It's all over the world,' " said Kultida. "I never said that. The dadgum media got it wrong. All I said was that it would be nice if he did." Two days later Tiger told journalists, "I will many whomever I fall in love with."
In the airport more than 1,000 people were waiting for Woods, many of them armed with bright garlands to hang on their hero. An hour later, when Woods finally got to hise to hold down food. Before going to bed for five hours of sleep, he learned that the luggage carrying all of his clothing was lost, which sent both Nike and IMG representatives into severe swoosh withdrawal. "It's turning out to be a great trip," Woods said sarcastically. Even though his luggage showed up the next day, his stomach problems, jet lag and the effects of 90° tropical heat caused him to drop out of the pro-am after 13 holes and skip that night's dinner. He was flown by helicopter the 30 miles from the course to the hotel to rest and recover for the tournament proper.
After completing the first round, in which he shot an erratic 70, and conducting a junior clinic, Woods turned down his mother's request to attend a traditional Thai dinner and an elaborate folk performance organized in his honor by the government and Thai Airways. Two hours later Woods was relaxing in the hotel lounge with Strange and Nobilo when Kultida came down to make one last plea. Although annoyed, Tiger couldn't refuse. "Tida did a number on him," said Strange. "He came back and said, 'Guys, I guess I'm not going to dinner with you.' " Instead, Woods and his traveling companions, childhood friend Mike Gout and former Stanford teammate Jerry Change, piled into a Mercedes and, with a police escort through Bangkok's traffic-snarled streets, drove to the Siam City Hotel for the folk program. Once he arrived, Woods brightened. He particularly enjoyed a kick-boxing exhibition that brought back memories of how he and Gout I used to put on the gloves in the garage as youngsters. "Just like home, huh, Mikey," said Woods.
Kultida was fulfilled. "It's important that the boy sees his heritage," she said. "It wouldn't have been right for him not to go. I know he did it for me. The boy is a good boy. He got mad because he has no time, but in the end he did the right thing." I Kultida was even prouder after the tournament, when Woods was I given honorary citizenship by Thai I prime minister Chavalit Yong-chaiyudh on the floor of Bangkok's ornate Government House.
As Woods sped off for Australia, he was flirting with burnout. His next tournament in the U.S. is supposed to be this month's Nissan Open at Riviera, in Los Angeles, where in 1992 as a 16-year-old he played in his first Tour event. But if Woods is feeling any ill effects from his continent hopping, he might skip L.A. and wait until the Doral-Ryder Open in March to play again. That would cast the trip to Bangkok in a negative light, although Johnson, who has managed globetrotting golfers for three decades, believes Woods will cope.
"This trip turned out well for Tiger," he says. "He's tired, yes, but he learned some things and he made a lot of friends. Plus he won the tournament."
As long as that keeps happening, in Thailand or anywhere else, Woods will be a content superstar.