Yang delivers knockout punch
CHASKA, Minn. – Rome has fallen. The king has been dethroned. Alert the authorities.
With a thunderous fist pump after a dramatic birdie on the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship, Y.E. Yang became the answer to a trivia question that will be asked as long as golf is played.
Who was the first player to beat Tiger Woods after he held the 54-hole lead in a major championship?
Give Yang props. He out-composed Mozart, out-shimmied Elvis and out-homered Ruth.
Yang’s closing 2-under 70 Sunday was five shots better than Woods on a day when the world’s No. 1 player couldn’t make the late-game charge we’re so accustomed to seeing. This wasn’t Torrey Pines; this was torture.
“I was certainly in control of the tournament for most of the day,” Woods said. “I did everything I needed to do except for getting the ball in the hole.”
Woods needed 33 putts Sunday at Hazeltine, more than any of his previous three rounds. Something must be in the water here at this former farmland outside of Minneapolis. It’s the second time Woods has finished runner-up at the PGA at Hazeltine. Rich Beem knocked off Woods in 2002, despite Tiger reeling off four consecutive birdies to end his round.
What’s more, Woods’ runner-up finish caps a 2009 major season in which headlines focused more on the guys that finished second than the ones that hoisted the hardware. Sentimental favorite Kenny Perry lost to Angel Cabrera in a playoff at the Masters. Phil Mickelson, whose wife had just been diagnosed with cancer, and David Duval, who was ranked 882nd in the world, were nipped by Lucas Glover at the U.S. Open. And Tom Watson, at 59 bidding to become golf’s oldest major champion, was defeated by Stewart Cink at the British Open.
So it was no surprise that many Minnesotans who came Sunday to the longest course in PGA Championship history left with even longer faces.
“I’ve admired him and respected him,” Yang said about Woods. “So was I intimidated? Yes, I guess I was a bit.”
It didn’t look like it, however, especially on the back nine.
After Woods hit the 606-yard par-5 11th in two mighty swings, he two-putted for birdie and took a one-shot lead. But that would be the last time he was ahead. Woods bogeyed No. 12 after a wild tee shot, missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 13th, then found a greenside bunker short of the 301-yard par-4 14th. Yang also missed the green at 14, but avoided the bunker. His chip for eagle from 50 feet rolled over a ridge and into the bottom of the cup. Yang unleashed a fist pump as the massive gallery broke into a frenzy.
Yang held on to his one-shot lead as the players reached No. 18. His drive found the first cut of rough just off the right side of the fairway. He then hoisted a hybrid 3-iron over a tree and into the wind to a pin tucked in the back-left of the green. The ball stopped 12 feet from the cup. Woods missed the green from the fairway, then failed to chip in for birdie.
Yang, who had been smiling around Hazeltine all afternoon and throwing golf balls into the crowd, rolled in his birdie putt, then lifted his golf bag over his head and bodyslammed it back to the ground.
“I’ve visualized this quite a few times playing with him in the final round of a major championship,” Yang said. “I’ve seen throughout Tiger’s career that a lot of player have folded on the last day when playing with him.
“Tiger’s good, but he could always have a bad day. And I guess today was one of those days.”
Woods and Yang’s paths to success couldn’t have been more different. Yang didn’t pick up a golf club until a friend urged him to go to a driving range at age 19. He never had thoughts of becoming a tour pro, only wanted to make money teaching the game. But after spending a year and a half in the Korean army, he took a trip to New Zealand to work on his game. He played over 100 rounds in three months, and realized he might have pro potential. When he returned home, he joined the Korean Tour. From 2004-06 he won five times on the Japan Tour.
Yang’s defining moment came late in 2006 at the HSBC Champions, the first event of the ’07 European Tour season. He won the event, outlasting a field that included Woods, who had arrived in Shanghai without losing a 72-hole event in four months. Earlier this year, he won the Honda Classic for his first PGA Tour victory.
Now he’s the first Asian-born player to win a major.
“Before I picked up my first golf club, I was like anybody else in the world – just an average Joe,” Yang said. “Ever since, I have the best job in the world.”
And after a wild Sunday in the last major championship of the decade, Yang’s got the best story to tell his grandkids.