Yang adds name to list of Tiger slayers
CHASKA, Minn. -- The lesson is simple. It has just taken a while to grasp. For all of the consternation over the lack of challengers to Tiger Woods, we have failed to look in the proper place.
The biggest threats come from those who are household names only in their own households, who are given odds of prevailing that are longer than Lake Superior, who somehow muster the moxie at the moment when others melt.
Y.E. Yang is the latest to do it, a shocking major winner Sunday at Hazeltine National, where he played in the final twosome with Woods at the PGA Championship and thumped him by 5 shots.
Y.E. Yang's final 49 holes illustrated just how good the 37-year-old was down the stretch at Hazeltine. After starting the tournament 5-over par, Yang regrouped to shoot 13-under en route to his first major championship win.
|Thru 23 Holes||Final 49 Holes|
This was no fluke, as the South Korean golfer executed under duress and took advantage of a poor putting day by Woods to become the first Asian-born player to win a men's major championship.
The PGA was Woods' to win, the Wanamaker Trophy all but packaged and sealed for delivery to Florida.
It would have been a record-tying fifth PGA for Woods and a 15th major title, putting him just three behind Jack Nicklaus' record of 18. It would have been a third straight victory on the PGA Tour, the 71st overall. It would have been an incredible cap to what is still a remarkable season for Woods, who in February returned after an eight-month absence due to knee surgery and has still managed to dominate.
But on Sunday, it was a 37-year-old golfer who didn't take up the game until age 19 and needed to go to the qualifying tournament each of the past two years just to make it to the PGA Tour who brought down the guy who had never failed to win with a 54-hole lead in a major.
"He's just not scared," said A.J. Montecinos, Yang's caddie who began working for him full-time last fall at Q-school and was on the bag when Yang won earlier this year at the Honda Classic. "He's just a world-class player, and he's got nothing to lose."
Yang was ranked 110th in the world heading into the week and has now won 10 times around the world on four different tours. His biggest previous victory came at the 2006 HSBC Champions in China, where he overtook Woods on the final day to win his first European Tour event.
But nothing to lose? Perhaps that is the simple explanation for the handful of seemingly inferior players who have managed to do this to Tiger.
Then again, how many chances will they get? You put yourself in a life-changing position with a chance to accomplish a lifelong goal and there is nothing to lose? That doesn't seem plausible, either.
"My heart nearly pounded and exploded, being so nervous," Yang said Saturday through an interpreter after learning he would be paired with Woods, who shot 75 during the final round.
Six times now, Woods has finished second in a major championship and nobody -- nobody -- would have picked the eventual winner to beat him.
PGA Championship Leaderboard
1. Yang (-8)
2. Woods (-5)
T-3. McIlroy (-3)
T-3. Westwood (-3)
5. Glover (-2)
• Complete scores
He lost by a shot to Rich Beem at the 2002 PGA here at Hazeltine, by 2 to Michael Campbell at the 2005 U.S. Open, by 2 to Zach Johnson at the 2007 Masters, by 1 to Angel Cabrera at the 2007 U.S. Open, by 3 to Trevor Immelman at the 2008 Masters and now by 3 to Yang.
Only Johnson and Cabrera have won tournaments on the PGA Tour since, and nobody in that group is considered a consistent, world-beating player. And their résumés prior to defeating Woods were sorely lacking.
Throw in Bob May at the 2000 PGA Championship, Chris DiMarco at the 2005 Masters and Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open -- all playoff losers to Woods in those majors -- and you have three more guys who have not won a tournament since their showdown with the game's best player.
Yang began the day 2 strokes behind Woods and matched the low score of the day with his 2-under-par 70. He had an eagle, two birdies and two bogeys. Sure, the chip-in for eagle at the 14th was fortunate, but nonetheless it was a clutch shot at a big time and would have yielded no worse than a birdie had it not gone in.
The nerves showed when Yang 3-putted the 17th green to leave Woods a chance to tie him at the 18th, but the South Korean came back and struck an incredible 3-iron hybrid from 206 yards that he took over a tree and landed next to the pin, all but sealing the tournament.
It was a huge shot, because he led by just 1 and forced Woods to go at the pin. He missed the green, and when his chip shot for birdie missed, all that was left was for Yang to cozy his putt up close to the hole. It went in for another lasting memory.
"I've sort of visualized this quite a few times playing against the best player in the history of golf, playing with him in the final round in a major championship, always sort of dreamed about this," Yang said Sunday. "I've seen throughout Tiger's career that a lot of players have folded probably on the last day when playing with him.
"So when I was at home or at a tournament watching Tiger in the clubhouse, I'd usually try to visualize and try to bring up a mock strategy how to win, if I ever played against Tiger."
Or any of the so-called elite who have never managed to take down Woods on the way to Sunday glory in a major.
Yang, whose best finish in a major prior to Sunday was a tie for 30th at the 2007 Masters, managed to keep the heat on Woods. And he obviously arrived with the perfect attitude to accomplish the goal.
"When the chance came, I sort of thought that, hey, I could always play a good round of golf and Tiger could always have a bad day," he said. "And I guess today was one of those days."
For some strange reason, after opening the tournament with rounds of 67-70, Woods lost his putting touch. He made just a single putt outside of 5 feet after the 16th hole on Friday, a birdie that came at the 14th Sunday just after Yang holed his eagle chip to take his first lead.
"I made absolutely nothing, a terrible day on the greens,'' Woods said. "And I had it at the wrong time."
But he had praise for the winner, too.
"Y.E. played great all day," Woods said. "I don't think he really missed a shot all day."
And that is what it takes to beat Woods, a guy coming out of nowhere doing the unthinkable.
Consider this: Woods had finished ahead of Yang in each of the 21 previous PGA Tour events in which they had played together, winning nine times.
The closest Yang ever came was a fifth-place finish two weeks ago, when Woods won the Buick Open. In terms of shots, Yang's closest call was a 2-shot difference at the Quail Hollow Championship earlier this year, where Woods finished fourth and Yang was tied for 11th.
Of course, none of that mattered in the end Sunday. Yang held the trophy, and Woods was left to wonder from which direction the most unlikely of long shots will be fired in the future as he continues to chase history.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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91st PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
The drama was gripping. The battle between Y.E. Yang and Tiger Woods compelling. So did Yang win the 91st PGA or did Tiger lose it? The truth lies somewhere in between. Gene WojciechowskiCourse: Hazeltine National Golf Club
Where: Chaska, Minn.
Yardage/Par: 7,674 yards, par-72
2009 champion: Y.E. Yang