- The Washington Times - Monday, August 17, 2009


There are those who will characterize the 91st PGA Championship as the fitting end to a major season on the blink. They will lump in the surprise winner of the Wanamaker Trophy with the year’s other upset champions (Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink) and label this the Slam season of the dog.

They will say Hazeltine’s bewildering result simply was the inevitable, absurd ending of the most ill-fated major season in history.

How else can anyone swallow the fact that Y.E. Yang, a player with just one PGA Tour victory (2009 Honda Classic) who had never made the cut at a major before, took down Tiger Woods, snapping his streak of 14 straight conversions from the 54-hole major pole.

Incredulity might be the prevailing sentiment, but so what?

This moment has been more than a decade in the making, and Yang’s virtual no-profile does nothing to diminish his epic accomplishment.

“I know Tiger is one of the greatest players in the history of the game,” Yang said through an interpreter after besting Woods by five strokes in the final round. “You have to respect him. I don’t think he had a bad game, but I am glad he had an off-day.”

Sure, Woods didn’t come up with his customary closing brilliance Sunday, stumbling to a closing 75 at blustery Hazeltine. That score was just one better than his worst in the final round of a major (2004 U.S. Open) and by far his worst effort as a front-runner.

“I did everything I needed to do today except get the ball in the hole,” Woods said after his bid for a 15th major title fell prey to a number of cup-grazing putts and 33 total whacks with the short stick. “I had a bad day on the greens at a bad time. That’s the way it goes.”

But if Woods opened the door with a poor putting day, Yang was the only player who stepped through it. He was the only man among the dozen players who began the day at 2 under or better to break par in the finale, matching the day’s low round with a closing 70 on the 7,674-yard, par-72 track.

Sure, the 37-year-old South Korean hit some squirrely shots to the right early, flirted foolishly with the water at the 16th and obviously felt the intense pressure of his first taste of contention at a major with an ugly, three-putt bogey at the 17th.

But Yang also struck Sunday’s two most memorable blows: He holed a chip from 50 yards at the 14th for an eagle to become the first player to unseat Woods atop the leader board all week.

And with Woods just one back and the pressure of an entire continent on his shoulders, he channeled a little Shaun Micheel (2003 PGA) on his approach to the 72nd hole. His heroic hybrid from 206 yards out from the first cut tracked over a tree, landed two feet beyond a green-guarding bunker and bounded within 10 feet of the cup to cement his victory.

“Was I intimidated [by Woods]?” Yang said of the situation on the 72nd hole. “I guess I was a little bit.”

It sure didn’t show.

In knocking the first serious hole in Tiger’s aura of final-round major invincibility, Yang managed what a decade of “elite” players like Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington could not. And it’s not like bigger names didn’t have their chances this week.

Els surged on consecutive weekend days only to leak strokes at the tape. And Harrington’s finale was a case study in what usually happens to elite players when they try to engage Tiger in the Slam crucible.

Was that actually Padraig Harrington or a doppelganger with a 10-handicap who showed up and posted a quintuple bogey at the par-3 eighth hole en route to a closing 78? If rules official Jon Paramor copped much of the blame for the Dubliner’s 16th-hole implosion last week at Firestone, Harrington holds the rights to every atrocious swat Sunday.

Said Harrington: “It wasn’t anybody else. It’s all me.”

Harrington’s debacle left Yang alone with Woods under the Slam spotlight in the final nine holes. And Yang didn’t just match the near-miss efforts of the litany of second-tier players who always have given Woods his toughest major tussles (Bob May, Chris DiMarco, Rocco Mediate); he actually closed the deal.

Give it up for Y.E. Yang. Tiger didn’t just give him the 91st PGA Championship. Yang took it by striking the day’s two most masterful shots and matching the low final-round salvo on a day when the average score was 74.33.

And on a week when golf was added to the Olympics, perhaps Yang’s Asian breakthrough was the greatest blow struck for the future growth of the game.

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