Yang\‘s shocker caps crazy 2009 season
By BILL HUFFMAN
A startling conclusion to a crazy season in the major championships occurred Sunday when Tiger Woods finally let a big one get away.
South Korea’s Y.E. Yang was the winner of the 91st PGA Championship, the first Asian-born player to win a major. That he took down Woods in the process was a bigger deal.
In 14 straight majors, Tiger had taken the lead into the final round and went on to be crowned champ. This time Yang knocked him out coming down the stretch, then raised his arms — and his bag — in victory as Woods wore an expression that clearly said: I let this one get away.
Not necessarily, as Yang’s chip-in eagle at the 14th along with his incredible shot over a tree that settled eight feet from the cup at No. 18 had a lot to do with it, too.
“I didn’t execute. I didn’t make a putt and he did,’’ Woods said in the aftermath, clearing licking his wounds as he imploded with a 3-over-par 75 to Yang’s 70, a turnabout that produced a three-shot shocker as Woods blew – for the first time “almost’’ ever – a two-shot lead going into the last 18 holes.
The biggest win of his life was not lost on Yang, who circled the ring with his arms raised like a prize fighter who had just knocked out the champ. In reality, Tiger’s conservative strategy over the final 36 holes backfired while Yang played all out.
“It’s going to be a bit of a crazy party for (South Koreans), especially my friends,’’ said Yang, who certainly breaks the stereotype of the stoic Asian.
That quote came through an interpreter, but the message was clear: His Rocky-like victory simply rocked the golf world. It also ended a year in the majors where the “wrong guy’’ won every time.
First it was Angel Cabrera in the Masters, who came out of nowhere to beat Kenny Perry. Unbelievably, Perry blew a two-shot lead with two holes to play.
Then Lucas Glover, a dark horse at best, plays steady down the stretch to beat Phil Mickelson in the U.S .Open. Mickelson had been a sentimental/emotional favorite after Mickelson’s wife Amy had announced she has breast cancer.
If that’s not enough, a REAL sentimental favorite, Tom Watson, leads all the way to the final hole of the British Open before Stewart Cink sneaks in a putt on his 72nd hole and overpower Watson in a playoff.
But the best was saved for last as Yang found his Ying. It was tough for Tiger to swallow, but it was good – really good – for the game of golf.
Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy tied for third and Glover ended up fifth. And poor Padraig Harrington, the Irishman had hung towards the top of the leader board most of the week until two errant shots into the water at No. 8 and the subsequent quintuple-bogey 8 sunk his chances.
Nobody really cared about the "others” as the match-play confrontation between Yang and Tiger on the back nine turned out to be the toast of 2009. The only question left to answer, really, is who will be the player of the year? (Yang, whose two wins include a major?)
Oh, yes, and one more thought: Isn’t it slightly ironic that perhaps one of the most memorable duels of all-time in the PGA really came down to match play?
For its first 52 years, match play was the format of the PGA.