Yang shocks Woods, wins PGA
Friday, August 21, 2009
CHASKA, Minn. – In a year of spoilers at the majors, Y.E. Yang was the biggest of all.
He toppled the mighty Tiger Woods.
Yang became the first Asian-born player to win a major Sunday with a stunning performance in the PGA Championship, memorable as much for his clutch shots as the player he beat.
Woods was 14-0 when he went into the final round of a major atop the leaderboard. He had not lost any tournament around the world in nine years when leading by two shots.
None of that mattered to Yang, a 37-year-old South Korean who hit the shots everyone expected from Woods. Leading by one on the final hole, Yang slew golf's giant with a hybrid 3-iron that cleared the bunker and settled 12 feet from the cup.
Yang made the birdie putt and shouted with joy as he pumped his fist. That gave him a 2-under 70, and a three-shot victory when Woods missed yet another short par putt and shot 75.
“This might be my last win as a golfer,” Yang said through an interpreter. “But it sure is a great day.”
His victory is massive for Asia, the fastest-growing market in golf. Perhaps even more significant is that the way he stood up to Woods, the world's No. 1 player whose heritage is half-Asian through his Thai-born mother.
Yang and K.J. Choi are the only PGA Tour players who learned golf in South Korea before coming to America. South Koreans have had far more success on the LPGA Tour, with seven players combining to win 11 majors.
His victory came four days after golf was recommended to become part of the Olympics in 2016.
For Woods, it was the second time he has finished runner-up in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine, both times to a surprise winner. Seven years ago, he birdied the last four holes and came up one short of Rich Beem.
This time, Woods made one mistake after another over the last four holes, mostly with his putter.
“I did everything I needed to do, except for getting the ball in the hole,” Woods said. “Just didn't make the putts when I needed to make them.”
Yang was No. 110 in the world, his only victory on the PGA Tour coming in March at the Honda Classic, on a course across the street from headquarters of the PGA of America. He was best known for holding off Woods at the HSBC Champions in China three years ago.
This stage was far bigger and Yang was even better.
He took the lead for the first time all week by chipping in for eagle from about 20 yards short of the 14th green. And when it looked as though nerves were getting the best of him on a three-putt bogey at the 17th, he delivered his two most important shots.
Yang still had enough strength left to hoist his golf bag over his head, and later the 44-pound Wanamaker Trophy. After a long and tearful embrace with his wife, Young Ju Park, he walked across a bridge saluting thousands of fans who couldn't believe what they saw.
What a capper to this year in the majors.
Kenny Perry was poised to become the oldest Masters champion at 48 until Angel Cabrera beat him in a playoff. Phil Mickelson, reeling from his wife being diagnosed with breast cancer, was on the verge of finally winning the U.S. Open until Lucas Glover outplayed him over the final few holes. And just last month, 59-year-old Tom Watson was an 8-foot par putt away from winning the British Open, then lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink.
Woods losing a two-shot lead in the final round of a major? That was unthinkable – until a breezy afternoon at Hazeltine.
“I played well enough the entire week to win the championship,” Woods said. “You have to make putts. I didn't do that. Today was a day that didn't happen.”
Yang finished at 8-under 280 and won $1.35 million, along with a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour and the majors. That was important for a guy who had to go back to PGA Tour qualifying last December. The last player to go from Q-school to PGA champion was John Daly in 1991.
One more bonus: His victory put him on the International team for the Presidents Cup in October in San Francisco.
Asian-born players had come close in the majors – Liang-Huan Lu of Taiwan finishing one shot behind Lee Trevino at the 1971 British Open, and T.C. Chen's famous two-chip gaffe that cost him a chance at the 1985 U.S. Open, where he was runner-up to Andy North.
This could be a big breakthrough for Asian players, especially with a World Golf Championship starting this year in China.
As for the PGA Championship, what remains is whether it will be remembered more for Yang's victory for Woods losing a 54-hole lead for the first time in a major.
“He went out there and executed his game plan,” Woods said. “He was doing exactly what you have to do, especially in these conditions. I think he played beautifully.”
This was a two-man race throughout the back nine, especially after defending champion Padraig Harrington imploded in the group ahead of them on the par-3 eighth. Harrington was one shot behind when he hit two shots in the water – including a chip from behind the green, just like last week at Firestone – and took a quintuple-bogey 8. He shot a 78.
Woods three-putted for bogey at No. 4 for the second straight day and made bogey from the bunker at No. 8, sending the final pairing to the back nine in a tie for the lead.
Woods regained the lead with a 3-wood on the 606-yard 11th hole onto the green, only to give it back with a bogey on the 12th after he hit a wild hook into the trees. He twice missed birdie putts inside 10 feet – at No. 10 and No. 13 – and then momentum shifted to Yang.
With the tees again moved forward to 301 yards, Yang came up just short. He watched Woods play a good bunker shot to 8 feet, then knocked it his chip.
“That's when I thought, ‘I do have a chance,’” Yang said.
He was steady. Woods was sloppy.
Woods chunked a 3-wood trying to for the green in two at the 15th, then missed another 10-foot birdie putt to tie. Both bogeyed the 17th hole, Woods with a shot he thought was pure until it landed into thick rough over the green.
And on the 18th, Yang came up with the shot of his life. Even then, he had seen enough of Woods that he expected him to chip in for birdie on the final hole.
“Tiger's good, but he could always have a bad day,” Yang said. “Guess this is one of those days.”