Originally created 11/08/97

Woods wows Japanese fans



HANNO, Japan -- Screaming "Woods-san" and "Tiger!" thousands of Japanese golf fans ignored their local hero and a collection of celebrities to follow Tiger Woods' every move Friday in a Pro-Am event.

"I've never heard so many `oohs' when I drove," Woods said after shooting 1-under-par 69 at the 6,738-yard Musashigaoka Golf Course outside Tokyo.

But for the 3,500 fans who paid $163 apiece for their tickets, the score didn't matter. Neither did the movie stars and baseball players, including Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza, who also took part in the Pro-Am event.

"It's so exciting to see the real Tiger Woods," said 53-year-old Michio Usui, who took a day off work to attend. "He is amazing, it's like seeing a miracle."

Japan's second-year pro Shigeki Maruyama, who has emerged as the heir apparent to Jumbo Ozaki as the best golfer in Japan, shot a 66, the best score of the day. But his effort went virtually unnoticed as the crowds followed Woods.

There is no prize money for the Pro-Am event, but the professionals were paid for their appearances and expenses.

"It's always fun to play with different people," said Woods, who was making his first trip to Japan. "I came out with new friends."

Woods played with four Japanese, including actor George Tokoro on the front nine. He played the back nine with a different group that included Piazza.

Besides Woods and Maruyama, eight professional golfers, including Nick Price and Mark O'Meara, took part, as well as 41 celebrities.

"My iron play was sporadic," Woods said. "I had a couple of bad ones, but overall I'm pleased."

On Saturday, Woods will play a $600,000 skins match with Price, O'Meara and Maruyama and another match Sunday with Asian junior champs. A three-day ticket covering all Woods events cost $490, almost twice as much as an average tournament here.