Yang outduels Woods, denies Tiger 15th major

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McClatchy Tribune
Monday, August 17, 2009
— Make room, Francis Ouimet and Jack Fleck, for another myth-busting, giant-killing, long-shot dream come true.

Y.E. Yang, a 37-year-old Korean ranked No. 110 in the world and without a top-25 finish in seven previous major championship appearances, pulled off one of the most shocking upsets in golf history Sunday.

With a rooster on the back of his shirt and a lion in his heart, Yang did what no one else had ever done. He caught, and beat, 54-hole leader Tiger Woods in the final round of a major championship.

Yang’s chip-in for eagle on the 14th hole at Hazeltine National gave him the lead for the first time, and he pulled away to a three-shot victory over the greatest player of his generation in the 91st PGA Championship.

“You never know in life,” Yang said through interpreter Ryan Park. “This might be my last win as a golfer, but it sure is a great day.

“It’s going to be a big foundation for me to continue playing at the top level, which is the PGA Tour and golf in America. And it just means the world right now. It really hasn’t sunk in, but I do know the significance of it.”

Woods entered the final round with a two-stroke lead over Yang and defending champion Padraig Harrington and had never lost in such a situation. He was 14 for 14 in majors with the 54-hole lead.

But it was Yang, not Woods, who hit the heroic shots down the stretch. And it was Yang, not Woods, who holed the clutch putts.

“Y.E. played great all day,” Woods said. “I don’t think he really missed a shot all day. It was a fun battle. Unfortunately, I just didn’t make the putts when I needed to make them.”

Yang shot a 2-under-par 70, tied for low round of the day, and finished at 8-under 280. He earned $1.35 million.

Woods shot a 75 with 33 putts and finished second at 285. He missed an astonishing number of putts, including birdie attempts of 6 feet on No. 1, 15 feet on No. 2, 10 feet on No. 10, 10 feet on No. 13 and 15 feet on No. 15. He also missed par putts of 4 feet on No. 4, 15 feet on No. 8, 10 feet on No. 17 and—when it no longer mattered—8 feet on No. 18.

“I made absolutely nothing,” Woods said. “It was a terrible day on the greens, and I had it at the wrong time. I either misread the putt or hit bad putts. I certainly was in control of the tournament for most of the day. I hit the ball great off the tee, hit my irons well.

“I did everything I needed to do except for getting the ball in the hole.”

Yang’s victory was historic on several fronts. He is the first Asian-born player to win a men’s major. He recorded the biggest-ever comeback in a PGA, rallying from nine shots behind Woods after 36 holes.

And as upsets go, it was among the biggest ever.

Ouimet was a 20-year-old amateur when he shocked the giants of the day, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in a playoff to win the 1913 U.S. Open. That event is credited with launching the first golf boom in the United States. Fleck was a virtual unknown when he beat the great Ben Hogan in a playoff to win the ’55 U.S. Open.

Woods went into the PGA with 70 career victories and 14 major titles. Yang went in with one victory, having won the Honda Classic earlier this year.

“I mean, (Woods) is world No. 1,” said Yang’s caddie, A.J. Montecinos. “He’s been that way for a long time. He’s got a two-shot lead going into today, so we have not a lot to lose, just go out and do the best we can. God willing, the breaks go our way.”

Woods and Yang came to the pivotal 301-yard, par-4 14th hole tied for the lead at 6-under. Both tried to drive the green; Yang’s shot finished on a slight upslope next to a greenside bunker, and Woods drove his ball into the bunker.

Woods played first and blasted to 10 feet. Yang then chipped in for an eagle and even though Woods made his birdie putt, Yang had the lead for the first time. He never trailed again.

“He goes up and surveys it and he says, ’52’ (degree wedge) and I handed it to him and that’s exactly what I’m thinking, too,” Montecinos said. “Next thing you know, it’s in the hole.”

Woods bogeyed No. 17 after his approach flew straight over the top of the flagstick and into a difficult lie behind the green. But he caught a break when Yang three-putted for bogey.

They came to the final hole still separated by one shot, but Yang put the tournament away, for all practical purposes, when he hit a magnificent hybrid 3-iron from 206 yards that finished 8 feet behind the hole.

Woods missed the green left with a 5-iron from 197 yards, but Yang was still nervous.

“Tiger has made miraculous shots and miraculous putts,” he said. “I’ve seen it throughout his career, and I’ve admired and respected him. So, on the 18th green, when he was making that chip shot, honestly, I was sort of praying it wouldn’t go in.”

It didn’t, skittering harmlessly past the hole. Yang then rolled in his 8-footer for the exclamation birdie.

An aspiring bodybuilder as a teen, Yang said his biggest dream then was to own his own gym. He described himself as “just a regular Joe” when he took up golf at age 19 after tearing a ligament in his knee. He started by whacking balls off mats into a net at a 60-yard driving range.

Eighteen years later, on the first tee at Hazeltine National in the final round of the PGA Championship, he told Montecinos, “I’m not scared.” Then he went out and proved it with the round of his life.

“I’ve sort of visualized this quite a few times, playing against one of the best players, if not the best player in the history of golf,” Yang said. “I’ve always sort of dreamed of this. And I’ve seen throughout Tiger’s career that a lot of players have folded on the last day when playing with him.

“When the chance came, I thought, ‘Hey, I could always play a good round of golf, and Tiger could always have a bad day.’ And I guess today was one of those days.”

Last updated: 11:08 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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