Major Upset: Woods Denied In Final Round
CHASKA, Minn. - The night before he went toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods in the final group in the final round of the 91st PGA Championship, unheralded Y.E. Yang ventured that his odds of winning were 70-1, seeing as Woods had 70 PGA Tour victories and he had one.
Most others had the odds much longer. Somewhere in the 200-1 range.
Yet Yang was relaxed and calm enough to smile and wave to television cameras, throw golf balls to the crowd and punch the air with fist pumps throughout the final round. He shocked the best player in the world Sunday at wind-whipped Hazeltine National Golf Club to become the first Asian-born player to win a men's major golf championship. After shaking hands with Woods, the South Korean saluted his clubs by lifting his golf bag above his head as the throng of spectators rimming the final hole roared with approval.
Woods was seeking his first major of 2009 and his fifth PGA Championship.
"You never know in life. This might be my last win as a golfer, but it sure is a great day," Yang said through an interpreter.
Yang shot 2-under-par 70 on the longest golf course ever used in a major championship - 7,674 yards - to finish at 8-under 280. Woods closed with a 75 to finish three strokes back in second. He lost for the first time in 15 major championships when he took at least a share of the lead into the final round.
"Y.E. played great all day. It was a fun battle out there today," said Woods, who needed 33 putts in the final round, the most he took in any round all week. "Unfortunately, I just didn't make any putts when I needed to make them. I had plenty of looks, and I was in control of the tournament most of the day. I just didn't make anything."
With a red rooster emblem on the back of his shirt, Yang, a former aspiring body builder who was ranked 110th in the world when the tournament started and was playing in only his eighth major championship, did not appear ruffled as he walked stride-for-stride with Woods and the traveling circus of news media inside the ropes.
Others, however, became unraveled, especially three-time major winner and defending champion Padraig Harrington, who took a quintuple-bogey 8 on the par-3 eighth hole and shot 78. Also shooting over par Sunday were majors winners Lucas Glover, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh.
"I did have a rough night yesterday, but as soon as I got onto the first tee, I became myself," Yang said. "It's always what I've dreamed about. It was always what I sort of envisioned. I wasn't that nervous. It's a game of golf. It's not like you're in an octagon where you're fighting against Tiger and he's going to bite you or swing at you with his 9-iron."
But in a pressure-cooker final round under mostly sunny skies and in front of massive crowds - 25 deep in most places around the course - Yang became the third player in those 15 majors to shoot a lower round when playing with Woods, who had averaged 69.50 strokes in those head-to-head meetings while his opponents averaged 73.14 before Sunday.
"I saw that a lot of players fold when they would play with him, so I would watch on TV and come up with a mock strategy on how to win," said Yang, whose initials stand for Yong-Eun. "When my chance came, I thought that I could always play a good round of golf, and Tiger, who is great, could always have a bad day. And today was one of those days."
Yang a late bloomer
Yang, 37, didn't pick up a golf club until he was 19 and served his required two years in the South Korean military beginning at 21. He turned pro in 1996 and earned his first PGA Tour win in March in the Honda Classic.
His biggest win before Sunday came in the European Tour's 2006 HSBC Champions Tournament in Shanghai, where he also beat Woods down the stretch. The following year Yang was disqualified when trying to defend his title when someone following play on the Internet noticed his scorecard was incorrect.
As stunning as the final numbers were in this year's final major championship, there was no need for correction.
The day started with Woods holding a two-shot edge. Yang cut into the lead with a birdie on the third hole, grabbed a share of the lead when Woods made bogey on the eighth hole and took a lead he never relinquished by chipping in for an eagle 2 on the drivable, 352-yard par-4 14th hole. Holding a one-shot lead on the 18th tee, Yang closed out Woods with an 8-foot birdie after hitting a metal wood from 206 yards.
"(Yang) has always been a wonderful ball-striker," Woods said. "And I think the only thing that's really held him back was the flat stick (putter). He was doing exactly what you have to do, especially in these conditions. It was so blustery out there, nobody went low."
Woods, 33, who is 12 months removed from tossing away crutches and learning how to walk again after reconstructive surgery to his left knee, was in ominous form heading into this championship following wins the previous two weeks, first in the Buick Open and then in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
All seemed normal again in the golf world - with Woods winning five times this year and television viewers tuning in. This week's third-round coverage on CBS was up 390% from last year's coverage, when Woods did not play. Earlier this year, with Woods playing in the final round in the Buick Open, ratings were up 167% from a year ago when he did not play. At the AT&T National, the tournament in Bethesda, Md., that Woods hosts and won this year, they were up 180%; at the WGC-Bridgestone, 104%.
Second-round coverage this week on TNT was up 104%.
Tiger's major shutout
Woods, a winner of this tournament in 1999, 2000, 2006 and 2007, was looking to go wire-to-wire after opening with a 67 on Thursday. After rounds of 70-71 on Friday and Saturday, he was firmly in position to win his 15th major title to pull within three of the record 18 won by his boyhood idol and lifelong benchmark, Jack Nicklaus.
Woods also was looking to have his name engraved on the event's silver prize, the 44-pound Wanamaker Trophy, for a record-tying fifth time. Instead, he was shut out in the game's four most treasured events for the first time since 2004, having finished in ties for sixth in The Masters and U.S. Open and missing the cut in the British Open.
"My career has certainly been much more consistent over the last five years. I've finished higher in major championships, (even) if I don't win," said Woods, who has six runner-up finishes in majors, including the 2002 PGA Championship when another unlikely player, Rich Beem, defeated him on this course by one shot.
"And I'll give myself a lot more chances. That's the only way you're going to win majors over the long haul is to give yourself chances. Nobody in the history of the game has done better than Jack, who finished second 19 times (in majors).
"I'm very proud of the changes I've made to get to this point. But unfortunately today I just didn't get it done today."
Yang's consistency also has been on the rise. He said during the week he wasn't a great golfer but now said he sees a chance he can become one.
And he hopes those in his home country will try to follow suit, especially the way it did when Se Ri Pak won the U.S. Women's Open in 1998.
"It's going to be a big foundation for me to continue playing at the top level, which is golf on the PGA Tour in America," Yang said. "And (Pak) really created a huge boom in Korea golf-wise, where everybody started picking up clubs instead of tennis racquets and baseball bats.
"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 probably build their dreams and expand their horizons a bit with this win."
And his victory comes four days after golf was recommended to become part of the Olympics in 2016.
"In 2016, I think Korea has a very good chance both on the individual as well as the team matches," Yang said. "We might not win the gold, but I do think Korea has a good chance to win a few medals."