Cyanide threat to New Zealand Open

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The Independent Online

Just days before Tiger Woods' first appearance in New Zealand, police confirmed yesterday that the United States Embassy had received a letter containing cyanide and threats to disrupt the New Zealand Open.

An assistant police commissioner, Jon White, said the threats were directed at the tournament but "it was clear the threats had been made because Woods, the world's No 1 golfer, was playing".

White confirmed that a "small" amount of cyanide was sent in the letter which was received by the embassy in Wellington in December, but would not provide further details.

"The threatening letter was sent to the US embassy and Israelis were also mentioned in it," White added. "We're talking and working with the diplomatic community and giving them much the same advice as we are the public generally."

Police have warned spectators attending the New Zealand Open, which begins on Thursday at Paraparaumu Beach, north of Wellington, to be vigilant, particularly with food. Catering staff have been warned of possible attempts to contaminate both players' and the public's food.

The US embassy here released a statement yesterday confirming that the cyanide was received and that the letter was immediately passed on to police.

"The US embassy has been cooperating fully with the New Zealand police," said the statement. "We are confident that appropriate steps are being taken. In the interests of security and not wanting to prejudice the investigation in any way, we are unable to comment further."

Janine Burns, an embassy spokeswoman, would not say whether anyone had become ill as a result of handling the letter.

Although White said that Woods' management team had been informed of the threats, Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg of International Management Group, remained unaware.

"I've been on the phone with the security people the last couple of weeks," Steinberg said from the Mercedes Championships in Hawaii, where Woods is playing before flying to New Zealand. "If any of it were true, I think I would have heard about it."

Woods was unavailable for comment, having left the Maui course after a one-over-par 74 in third round of the season-opening tour event.

Scott Verplank and Kenny Perry both went into the final round in Hawaii with a share of the lead, Verplank had a three-under-par 70, highlighted by an eagle three at the 663-yard closing hole. Perry finished with a 71 as the pair ended the day at 13 under par on 206.

Chris DiMarco matched the day's low round with a 68 and is tied for third place with David Toms on 207.