Yang stuns Tiger to become 
1st Asian to win major

August 17, 2009

 

Tiger Woods reacts after missing a birdie putt on the second hole during the final round of the 91st PGA Championship at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.


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 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.

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."


Eagle is lone highlight of Mickelson's ugly PGA

CHASKA, Minn. - Phil Mickelson's second shot Sunday in the PGA Championship carried about 199 yards, bounced 6 feet in front of the hole and found the cup for an eagle.

"I couldn't believe that thing went in," Mickelson said. "Those are fun to see."

It also proved to be a mirage.

Mickelson shot 6 over on the remaining 17 holes to cap a miserable week at Hazeltine National. He finished at 12-over 300, tying for 73rd. It's the first time he's shot 300 at a major in 11 years, dating to the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale.

"The last two weeks have been frustrating with my play," Mickelson said. "I'll have a week off here fortunately before we start the FedEx Cup and I'll see if I can get my game turned around for Barclays."

Lefty took six weeks off earlier this summer after his wife and mother were diagnosed with breast cancer, and his game has been slow to return. He played last week at the Bridgestone for the first time since the U.S. Open in June and tied for 58th.

His struggles continued at the PGA.

Mickelson teed off bright and early at 8:12 a.m., and he woke up the crowd when he holed out for eagle on the par-4, 490-yard first hole. The roar could be heard across the course, and it spurred Mickelson on to a 1-under 35 on the front nine.

Of course, Mickelson didn't have to putt on No. 1, which was a good thing. He has struggled all week to regain his putting stroke with minimal success. He needed 34 putts in the first round, 33 in the second and 30 on Saturday as he plummeted out of contention.

"I haven't putted the best for a little while now, so it's probably going to take a little more than overnight," he said. "But I at least feel like I have a little bit better direction."

Mickelson birdied Nos. 9 and 14, but a disastrous trip through the signature 16th summed up his week. He hit a poor tee shot way left into the hazard area, but was able to play it in the deep rough. But he chunked his utility club and the ball plopped into the creek just a few feet down the slope.

Mickelson spent extra time on the practice greens this week tinkering with his putting stroke, but declined to discuss the changes he was making.

He said will play The Barclays in two weeks, but has not laid out a longer-term plan for the rest of the season.

Fred Couples did say though that he expects Mickelson to play in the Presidents Cup.

"I think everything is fine there," Couples said. "I hope he wants to play. I hope he can play. I hope Amy's there. I believe in all that that they will both be there."

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MAJOR PROBLEMS: U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover shot a 2-over 74 on Sunday to tie for fifth at 2-under 286, capping a frustrating week for this year's major champions at Hazeltine National.

"I hit some loose shots and my putter sort of ran out of gas for me," Glover said.

He started the day four strokes back of the lead and hoping to get back into contention, but he had trouble with the putter for most of the afternoon.

"Just one of those days were there was a lid on it," Glover said.

He wasn't the only one who had trouble.

After tying for fourth at the Bridgestone last week, Masters winner Angel Cabrera never really got going at Hazeltine. He shot three rounds of 4-over 76, including the final round on Sunday, and finished 10 over.

Cabrera had an 8 on the par-3 eighth hole and then a bogey on the ninth during his 76 on Sunday.

British Open winner Stewart Cink finished with an 81 on Sunday and was 5 over for the tournament.

___

PGA BOUND: By finishing in the top 15, John Merrick and Italian Francesco Molinari both qualified for the PGA next year at Whistling Straits.

Merrick and Molinari were among six players who tied for 10th at even-par 288.

Merrick, from Long Beach, Calif., tied for the low round of the day with a 70 to ensure his return next year.

___

TORTOISE AND THE O'HAIR: Last week at the Bridgestone, course officials had to tell Padraig Harrington and Tiger Woods to speed up.

On Sunday at the PGA, Hazeltine officials had to tell Sean O'Hair to slow down.

O'Hair was the first player on the course Sunday morning, teeing off by himself at 7:36 a.m. The American wasted little time bringing an end to a long week. O'Hair finished his round in a blistering 2 hours and 13 minutes, averaging about 6 minutes a hole.

"I actually didn't play that bad," O'Hair said.

And after shooting an 82 on Saturday to drop him to 13 over, O'Hair, who won the Quail Hollow Championship and has five other top-10 finishes this year, actually played better at the breakneck pace. He shot 73, tying his lowest round of the week, to finish the tournament at 14-over 302.

He had three bogeys and two birdies, but had to be told to slow down at the turn because he was catching up to the hole crews who were still putting the pins in the greens.

"For me, it just kind of gets you in that good momentum," O'Hair said. "You just get up there and hit it."

___

SHOELESS JIM: Jim Furyk's second shot on No. 8 went right of the green and down into the rough on the backside of the hill, stopping just before falling into the water.

So Furyk removed his right shoe and sock and rolled up his pant leg to his knee, then executed a beautiful little punch shot to 3 feet. He walked up the hill and put the gimme putt in with his foot still bare, much to the delight of the gallery.

Furyk shot a 5-over 77 and finished at 10 over.

___

DIVOTS: Tom Lehman, the only Minnesota native in the field, shot 3-over 75 to finish 11 over. The University of Minnesota alum got a rousing ovation as he walked to the 18th green, holding up his driver with the Golden Gophers headcover.


Hazeltine needs update before Ryder arrives

CHASKA, Minn. There have been office buildings on the left side of Hazeltine Boulevard for years. The clutter recently increased with a Kohl's department store built on the right side.

Once you clear the commerce, there are homes to the left and a large open field to the right. There's hardly a hint that you're entering Hazeltine National, a championship golf course.

"There's nothing we can do about what people see when they first turn off (Hwy.) 41," club manager Matt Murphy said. "What we are planning to do is completely change what you see for 150 yards before the front gate. The entry experience was one of the first things talked about when discussing changes."

The road into Hazeltine will make a sweep to the right and offer a view of golf being played before members reach their parking lot. That's also what the 12-man rosters from the United States and Europe will see when they arrive for the Ryder Cup in September 2016.

This change and others still have to be confirmed by Hazeltine's board of directors at a September meeting. The membership previously voted in favor. And with revenues from this PGA Championship exceeding projections, the board figures to issue final approval.

This is a modernization that Hazeltine definitely needs to its facility, and to the poanna greens that caused too many putts to bounce rather than roll in the final major of 2009.

The clubhouse it's original is quite a dump when compared to modern facilities such as Interlachen, Golden Valley and Medina (formerly Rolling Green), to name a few.

The golf course has undergone frequent and dramatic changes since designer Robert Trent Jones went wild with his fondness for brawny tracks. There's no full-scale remodeling that remains of the course, other than continuing the march toward 8,000 yards.

The turf is another issue. The plan calls for the fairway grass to be killed and the greens to be dug out to a depth of 16 inches, starting next July 6.

Why kill the fairways? Because poanna is more weed than grass, and it has taken a firm hold in Hazeltine's fairways.

It wouldn't be too bright to spend a couple of million growing bent grass and creating new drainage for the greens, and then have members and guests dragging along fairway poanna in their soft spikes and again infesting the greens.

Hazeltine is going to kill the poanna and have bent grass everywhere tees, fairways, greens.

The clubhouse will disappear before the poanna. Demolition is scheduled to start the first week of October.

The new clubhouse would start at the current putting green and stretch back to the where the current structure sits. The locker room will expand by a mere 20 percent, keeping it crowded for major tournaments but as a modern facility.

What Hazeltine will not be spending money on is a swimming pool. Irv Fish, a former member and currently the treasurer on the U.S. Golf Association's executive committee, said:

"Pool is a four-letter word here. Hazeltine's mission is to advance golf and host championships."

There's no major event definite after the Ryder Cup, although there is expected to be a push to bring back a U.S. Open in the 2020/2022 range.

To maintain a reputation for golfing excellence within the club, Hazeltine started a junior membership players 38 and under with full privileges and reduced fees a few years back.

"We have 23 'juniors' right now, and several were outstanding college players," Murphy said. "They have been winning all the club events, but only at Hazeltine could you hear the older members say, 'I guess I'm going to have to play better.'

"This is a unique club. Golf is so much the focus that the tennis courts have become an employees' parking lot."

The uniqueness includes the fact this sizable project entryway, clubhouse, greens and fairways will bring no members' assessment. The club would make a large down payment with its cut of this PGA Championship, borrow the remainder and pay it off after the Ryder Cup.

Come 2016, Hazeltine is going to look much more like the world-class golf venue it has become, and the greens should be rolling as perfectly as the game's stars now expect.

What will be different is that Mike Schultz, the head pro at Hazeltine for 34 years, has said he will not be on the job seven years from now.

"We would like to convince Mike to stay that long, but I don't think it's possible," Murphy said. "That's going to be a sad day at Hazeltine, when Mike Schultz says, 'This is it.'"


Poor putting dooms Tiger

CHASKA, Minn. - His bid for a 15th major championship vanquished, Tiger Woods stood on the 18th green at Hazeltine National on Sunday holding his putter in his hands and staring in disbelief.

Fourteen times he had started the Sunday of a major with the lead. Fourteen times he brought the trophy home. Of all the ways for that remarkable streak to come to an end, death by putter had to be the most improbable.

Long known for nailing clutch putts on the biggest of stages, Woods missed seven inside of 10 feet at the PGA Championship on Sunday to let a two-shot lead slip away to first-time major winner Y.E. Yang.

"I made absolutely nothing," said Woods, who had 33 putts in the round his highest total of the week. "I just have to say, terrible day on the greens. And I had it at the wrong time."

Woods started the day with a two-shot lead over Yang and Padraig Harrington, and his reputation as the game's greatest closer had many treating the early portion of the round as a coronation.

But Yang proved to be tougher and more focused than anyone imagined, never wilting under Tiger's glare and forcing him to do more than just intimidate to win.

For the first time in his major career, Woods wasn't up to the task.

Tied at the turn, Woods missed makable putts on Nos. 10, 13 and 17 as Yang surged to the front. Woods could never answer, shooting a 3-over 75 to finish at 5 under, three strokes behind Yang.

"I hit the ball great off the tee, hit my irons well," Woods said. "I did everything I needed to do except for getting the ball in the hole."

It was a startling failure for a player who has earned his reputation as the best in the world on the greens. He has so many memorable putts in his career, including a 30-footer to beat Bob May at Valhalla in the 2000 PGA Championship and a 12-footer on the final hole of the U.S. Open to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate last year.

"I played well enough to win today," Woods said. "And the frustrating thing is I didn't make any putts and that's something I've been doing over the last three weeks. I've been putting pretty good."

Woods stormed into the final major of the season on the strength of consecutive victories at the Buick Open and Firestone. His sharp play continued on the first two days at Hazeltine, putting him at 8 under and giving this the feeling that his 15th major title was a foregone conclusion.

He played things more conservatively on Saturday, content to make pars and hold the lead. But he couldn't finish things off against Yang, who turned the tide in Tiger-like fashion by sinking an 8-foot putt on No. 13 and holing out from 60 feet on No. 14.

Woods still had a few chances to get back into a tie on the last two holes, but the shots, and in particular the putts, just never came through.

The South Korean gave Woods one more chance with a bogey at No. 17, but Woods missed an 8-foot putt that would have moved him into a tie heading to the final hole.

No one was more surprised than Yang, who was playing with Woods for the first time but was already well-versed in Tiger lore.

"I've seen through the highlights while playing in the same tournaments that Tiger makes some miraculous shots and miraculous putts," Yang said. "I've seen it throughout his career, and I've admired him and respected him."

But never feared him.

With Woods unable to gain momentum and get the crowd roaring with one of his signature big putts, Yang never looked rattled through the entire round, even when he was spraying shots into the trees or the crowd.

His flat stick flailing, Woods never was able to take advantage.

"I was in control of the tournament for most of the day," Woods said. "I was playing well, hitting the ball well. I was making nothing."


After beating Woods, life about to change for Yang

CHASKA, Minn. - Whenever Y.E. Yang was in a tournament with Tiger Woods, he would sit in the clubhouse and think about playing against the world's most famous athlete.

He'd visualize different scenarios, come up with strategies.

Deep down, he had a secret that he shared with no one: Yang would imagine beating Woods.

"The good players, the great names that you've mentioned, when they tee off with Tiger, their competitive juices sort of flow out and they go head to head and try to win," Yang said through an interpreter. "For me, I don't consider myself as a great golfer. I'm still more of the lower-than-average PGA Tour players."

Not anymore. In a matter of four hours Sunday, Yang's life and that of every aspiring golfer around the world, but particularly in Asia changed forever.

Not only did the 37-year-old South Korean become the first Asian player to win one of golf's majors the PGA Championship he took down none other than the sport's No. 1 guy to do it. Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia they all tried and failed.

Not Yang, who was poised, unflappable and determined throughout.

Not bad for someone who took up golf at 19 simply as a way to pay bills and ended up finding the job of his dreams.

"Honestly, I'm not prepared, I think," he said. "It's going to be a bit tough, sure, I know that. It's going to be fun, too. But honestly, I've never been in this spot, so I really can't assess it. This is my first time. I'm just going to try to go and improvise."

Pretty good plan, considering that's what got him here.

Yang his full name is Yong Eun Yang grew up on an island called Jeju, about an hour by plane from Seoul. His father is a farmer and his older brother is in the agricultural business, too. Yang wanted to be a bodybuilder, and dreamed of someday owning his own gym.

But when he was about 17 or 18, he blew out his knee. He was, he said, "like anybody else in the world, an average Joe."

Then a friend suggested he go work at the local driving range. It paid minimum wage, but Yang could eat and sleep there.

"The driving range was no longer than the tent we are in right now, probably about 60 yards, tops," he said, while speaking in the interview room. "The first grip I ever had was a baseball grip, and I was just whacking it into the net. It just felt fun."

The more he played, the more he fell in love with the game.

 

Associated Press