Making Y.E. Yang's accomplishment all the more special is that his final-round 70 was five shots better than Tiger Woods. (Pio Roda/Turner Sports)
Yang achieves a major moment in authoritative fashion
Y.E. Yang's victory will go down in the history books as one of sport's greatest upsets. The most notable aspect of it is that Yang did to Tiger Woods what Tiger has become famous for doing to everyone else.
By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
CHASKA, Minn. -- In the annals of sporting achievements, the story of South Korea’s Y.E. Yang has got to be close to the top of the list.
At least in the top 10.
On Sunday, with the world watching and expecting Tiger Woods to march confidently to his 15th major championship win, a far different story unfolded.
Yang, a 37-year-old, second-year player on the PGA Tour, entered the final round of the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine tied for second with Padraig Harrington, trailing Woods by two shots. It seemed like Yang was simply going to have a front-row seat to witness Woods do what he does best -- close out another major.
Until Sunday, Woods was a perfect 14-of-14 when leading a major after 54 holes. But as rays of sunshine poked abundantly through scattered clouds over the 18th hole Sunday evening, the formerly insurmountable Woods was finally undone.
From 210 yards away in the left side of the fairway and with an obstructed view to the green because of a cluster of towering trees, Yang delivered a glorious 3-hybrid approach shot that landed like a feather and settled just six feet from the hole, setting up a fist pump-inducing birdie to put an exclamation point on an unexplainable, unbelievable triumph over the world’s No. 1 player.
Yang’s final tally was 8-under-par 280, a shocking three shots better than Woods, the second-place finisher.
“I was in control of the tournament most of the day,” said Woods, who has never tasted a defeat quite like this one. “I was playing well, hitting the ball well. I was making nothing, but still either tied for the lead or ahead. Y.E. played great all day. 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.”
The victory, Yang’s second this season, was the first major championship win for an Asian man and will most certainly produce a golfing boom in Asia.
“This is really big,” said Reiko Takekawa, a writer for the Japanese publication Sports Graphic Number. “Se Ri Pak won the U.S. Women’s Open [in 1998]. Since then, there are more Korean and Japanese players playing on the U.S. tour.
“We all think it’s much, much more difficult for the men. We figured something like this wouldn’t happen for another five or 10 years. But, suddenly, it’s happening right now. We’re pretty much shocked, but also really happy. This is going to be huge news in Japan, too.”
Making the accomplishment all the more special -- particularly in Asia -- isn’t just the fact that Yang won the continent’s first major, but the fact that his 2-under 70 in the final round was five shots better than Woods.
“It shows that Yang is a real strong player,” Takekawa said. “It was really, really a great, great battle. We take our hats off to Y.E., absolutely.”
The turning point in the tournament came at the 301-yard, par-4 14th hole. At the time, Woods and Yang were tied for the lead at 6 under. Both players attempted to reach the inviting, elevated green with their respective tee shots. Woods missed right and found a bunker. Yang came up just short in the fairway.
Moments after Woods blasted out of the bunker, Yang deftly holed his 20-yard chip for one of the timeliest eagles in the history of golf, and the ground shook with the enthusiastic applause that erupted after the ball disappeared into the cup. Yang did to Tiger what Tiger has become famous for doing to everyone else.
Woods did make his birdie putt, but for the first time all week had been leapfrogged on the leaderboard.
“I chipped it with the thought that at least I would have to make this one a birdie chance,” Yang said of the eagle through his interpreter, Ryan Park, who is also Yang’s agent. “I tried to chip it, just get it as close as possible, but somehow, fortunately, actually it went in.”
Once Yang had the lead, he didn’t let go of it.
There was one little hiccup for Yang on the par-3 17th with a three-putt bogey, but Woods couldn’t take advantage, as he walked off with a bogey of his own, setting up a one-shot lead for Yang with one hole to play.
And that’s when Yang ended it in style, the nifty birdie that was reminiscent of Shaun Micheel’s dazzling finish at Oak Hill with a laser accurate 7-iron on the 72nd hole.
Woods struggled at the last, making bogey for a 3-over 75 and could only watch Yang celebrate.
“It was going to happen one day,” said Woods, referring to being beaten when going into the final round of a major with a lead. “If anyone would have thought it would have been a Korean player, people probably would have suspected it to be K.J. [Choi] because obviously he's played well for such a long period of time.
“Y.E. has won now a couple big events. He won one here in the States prior to this down in West Palm [at the 2008 Honda Classic]. He's getting better. He's playing better. And it's a matter of time before an Asian born player was going to win,” he added. “We've had a lot of great players over the years starting with Jumbo [Ozaki], and Isao [Aoki] has come close. It was just a matter of time.”
It was Yang’s time and it couldn’t have been any more special than to be paired with and then take down no less than Tiger Woods for major victory No. 1.
“At first when I saw the tee time, I was just really happy to be the last group on the final day of a major,” Yang said. “For a split second that was the first thought. And then second, my heart nearly pounded and exploded being so nervous, actually. I tried to go to sleep a bit early yesterday, ended up watching a lot of golf TV and a lot of myself on TV. It was really exciting.
“And actually I think the most nervous part passed by through night because I woke up about two, three times through my sleep. I didn't really get a good sleep yesterday.”
Chances are, he’ll get a good sleep after the celebration on Sunday night.