Yang takes down Tiger in PGA Championship
August 16, 2009
CHASKA, Minn. – Knowing his last remaining challenger was about to make birdie, he chipped in from 60 feet for an eagle. The crowd roared, and he responded with a scream and a fist pump.
Got to be Tiger Woods wrapping up another major.
No, not this time.
Y.E. Yang, a South Korean who didn’t take up the game until he was 19, became the first Asian player to win a major championship Sunday. And he took down Woods in the PGA Championship to do it.
“I usually go for broke,” Yang said through an interpreter. “The odds are against me. Nobody’s going to be really disappointed that I lose. So I really had nothing much at stake, and that’s how I played it.”
Beating Woods in a regular tournament would be a big enough shocker for a 37-year-old player who was in PGA Tour qualifying school just nine months ago. That he did it in a major is an upset so big it sent shock waves around the world.
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Woods was 14-0 when he was atop the leaderboard going into the final round of a major. He had never lost any tournament on American soil when leading by more than one shot.
Yang’s stunning victory might turn out to be a watershed for the Asian-born men’s game, too, much the way Se Ri Pak was for women. Since she won the LPGA Championship and U.S. Women’s Open in 1998, seven South Korean women have combined to win 11 majors.
Yang and K.J. Choi are the only PGA Tour players who learned golf in South Korea before coming to America.
“That really created a huge boom in Korea golf-wise, where everybody started picking up clubs instead of tennis rackets and baseball bats,” Yang said. “I hope this win would be, if not as significant, something quite parallel to an impact both to golf in Korea as well as golf in Asia so that all the young golfers, Korean and Asian, would build their dreams and expand their horizons.”
If the reaction back in South Korea is any guide, they will. People woke up before dawn to watch the final round, including president Lee Myung-bak, who later called Yang to offer his congratulations. Driving ranges were filled before work Monday morning.
At the Hoban Korean Restaurant near Hazeltine, where Yang ate all week, the owners not only kept the restaurant open Sunday night, they and the entire staff were waiting outside, applauding Yang as he arrived.
“You enhanced our people’s morale by winning the major title for the first time as an Asian,” Lee told Yang, according to Lee’s office.
And Yang gave hope to every other golfer, showing them that not only can Woods be beaten, but how to do it.
Knowing Woods was on the verge of a birdie on 14, Yang chipped in from 60 feet for eagle to take the lead. With Woods only a stroke behind and in the fairway on 18, he made an even more spectacular shot. Despite a tree blocking his view of the flag, Yang’s 3-iron hybrid cleared a bunker and settled 12 feet away.
He made the final birdie to close with a 2-under 70, giving him a three-shot victory when Woods missed yet another short par putt.
“I played well enough to win the championship. I did not putt well enough to win the championship,” said Woods, whose 75 was his worst score ever in the final round of the major when he was in the last group.
“I didn’t get it done on the greens, and consequently, I didn’t win the golf tournament.”
Though Yang won the Honda Classic in March, he was best known for holding off Woods at the HSBC Champions in China three years ago. But they weren’t paired together then.
And it wasn’t a major.
Asian-born players had come close in the majors before. Liang-Huan Lu of Taiwan finished one shot behind Lee Trevino at the 1971 British Open, and T.C. Chen’s famous two-chip gaffe cost him a chance at the 1985 U.S. Open, where he was runner-up to Andy North.
But trailing by two shots going into the final round at Hazeltine National, Yang was simply unflappable.
He had envisioned playing Woods so many times, imagined the strategies he’d used, that he felt no fear. He caught Woods at the turn and was tied with five holes to play when he chipped in for that eagle on the 14th. 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 in his chip.
He three-putted for a bogey on the 17th, and it looked as if the nerves might finally be kicking in – just in time for Woods to stage yet another dramatic comeback.
Instead, Yang delivered his two most important shots for the upset.
“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.”
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. When the Wanamaker Trophy was placed next to him before his news conference, he nodded his head, as if to say, “Yep, this is pretty cool.”
Yang finished at 8-under 280 and won $1.35 million, along with a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour and the majors. He is the first player since John Daly in 1991 to win the PGA Championship after going to Q-school the previous year. He also made the International team for the Presidents Cup in October in San Francisco.
“This might be my last win as a golfer,” Yang said. “But it sure is a great day.”
Indeed, in a year of spoilers at the majors, this might have been the biggest.
Kenny Perry was poised to become the oldest Masters champion at 48 until Angel Cabrera beat him in a playoff. Phil Mickelson, reeling from news his wife had 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, only to lose in a playoff to Stewart Cink.
But whether the PGA Championship is remembered more for Yang’s victory than Woods losing a 54-hole lead for the first time in a major remains to be seen.
“I have the utmost respect for his game,” Yang said. “I don’t think he had a poor game today, but I’m just glad that he had one of those off days today.”
Off it was.
Woods struggled with his putter from the very first hole, and it likely cost him the tournament. He missed seven birdie putts from within 10 feet, including ones at No. 10 and No. 13 that could have started one of those patented Tiger waves that has swallowed up so many an opponent.
“All the other 14 major championships I’ve won, I’ve putted well for the entire week,” Woods said. “And today, that didn’t happen.”