- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2009

CHASKA, Minn.

The debate over whether the 91st PGA Championship was defined by Tiger’s first serious major falter or Y.E. Yang’s heroics likely will linger until the game’s greats jack it up next April at Augusta National.

Let’s get one thing straight: Tiger Woods did not choke.

Woods blamed his putting for Sunday’s stumble, and that certainly sealed his fate. Woods singed more lips than Tabasco over the weekend at Hazeltine. It marked the third time this year that his blade betrayed him in a major (the Masters and U.S. Open), a cruel twist of irony for arguably the greatest putter in history.

Sometimes good putts don’t drop, but that doesn’t explain Tiger’s suspect weekend strategy as a front-runner. Tiger’s conservative game plan, not his putter, was at fault for his first blown save.

Woods stated Thursday that his present incarnation was superior to Tiger circa 2000. Umm, maybe on an average day but definitely not when Tiger 2000 was at his best. The modern Tiger is unquestionably more efficient, but Tiger 2000 was routinely spectacular. Tiger 2000 wouldn’t have “dumped it in the middle of the green and two-putted” on Saturday. Tiger 2000 would have stepped onto the tee with a four-shot lead and attacked the susceptible layout. The present Tiger just wants to win; Tiger 2000 wanted to win by double digits.

“One of the reasons why I changed my game with Hank [Haney] is to be more consistent in the big events,” said Woods, explaining his switch to a more conservative swing and approach in 2004. “My career has certainly been much more consistent over the last five years. I’ve finished higher in major championships if I don’t win. And I give myself a lot more chances.”

It’s impossible to argue with the results. Tiger 2000 had a different gear, occasionally playing the kind of record-breaking, field-humbling golf never seen before and unlikely to be seen again. But the more conservative Woods of the last five seasons has posted a higher percentage of wins, top-fives and top-10s in majors than his 1997-2004 predecessor.

Now to Yang, who deserves serious kudos after wrenching the Wanamaker Trophy from golf’s iron fist in the finale. Woods didn’t give the PGA away; Yang took it with the two best shots of the day (eagle on 14 and approach on 18) and posting a Sunday-low score of 70 from the intense pressure of the final pairing.

In snapping Tiger’s streak of perfection from the 54-hole major pole, Yang KO’d golf’s Marciano, accomplishing what none of Tiger’s litany of overindulged, underachieving “elite” foils have managed.

And as the first Asian-born major winner in the men’s game, Yang sits atop a marketing missile. But he likely isn’t a budding superstar, not at 37 with one shot in his arsenal (a sturdy fade) and a modest resume of previous accomplishments. Most signs indicate Yang is a one-hit wonder with a shocking career resemblance to Todd Hamilton.

The Texan was the last Japanese Tour refugee to show up on the PGA Tour later in his career bearing a bag full of hybrids, record an early season breakout victory at the Honda Classic and then take down an immortal in a major. Hamilton was 38 when he shocked Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson at the 2004 British Open.

There were rumors of a Hamilton sighting at the Masters earlier this year, but he essentially wandered into the gloaming at Troon in 2004 never to be seen again. Hopefully, Yang won’t vanish quite so quickly.

Finally, Hazeltine marked the official passing of the nascent Woods/Padraig Harrington rivalry. The Dubliner had everyone fooled with his work ethic, recent major record and bold words. But if you’re a three-time major winner and a man who professes to cherish swapping shots with Woods in the Slam crucible, you don’t make quintuple bogey in the middle of the Sunday Slam mix… ever.

That’s not rival material; it’s gag-reel material. Do you think Lee Trevino or Johnny Miller or Gary Player or Tom Watson ever drowned two Titleists on the same hole while tangling with Jack Nicklaus on a major Sunday?

After striking his teeshot on the par 3 into the water, Harrington proceeded to hit possibly the worst shot by any near-leader in a major. Only 80 yards from the green in the drop area, Harrington double-crossed a flip wedge so severely that his playing partner (Henrik Stenson), positioned some 35 yards left of the pin above the bunkers, had to dive out of the way to avoid being hit. You see the occasional shank on tour but lateral left?

Put an asterisk back in front of Harrington’s three majors; all three came with either Woods on the sidelines or as gifts from Sergio Garcia or both (2008 PGA). After this, he may never be seen in the same light.

That’s the exit theme from Hazeltine. From Tiger’s aura as an infallible front-runner to Harrington’s reputation to Asia’s admittance into the major fraternity, some things about the game will never be quite the same after the 91st PGA Championship.

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