Lots of sports this weeekend, but really only one sports story …
Imagine that you’d just achieved the greatest success of your career, only to find everyone focused not on your achievement but rather on the failure of another that allowed it to happen?
Congratulations – you’re Y. E. Yang, 2009 PGA champion!
There aren’t a lot of things you can depend on in this world. The sun will rise in the east, the Democrats will raise your taxes, and Tiger Woods is a lock when leading a major championship. Well, keep an eye on Obama and the sun, because Woods got rolled yesterday.
Fourteen times, Tiger has lead coming into the final round of a major, and all fourteen resulted in a victory. Eight of those came after leading after two rounds, and he was perfect there, too. So it’s understandable that when he came into the weekend with a four-stroke lead on the field, things were considered pretty much done. The pundits openly wondered if it was even worth considering the other players in the event. Funny how things happen, though.
Woods played tight on Saturday, seeming to be playing more to not lose than to win. As a result, while everyone else in the field was moving, he was idling and saw his lead chopped in half. Unlike the agressive Woods that slew Padraig Harrington only a week before at Akron, Tiger seemed tentative – something I’ve never seen in him.
Only a slip by Harrington at the end resulted in Woods’ Sunday pairing with the unheralded Yang, an Asian tour veteran playing his first season in America. Woods and Yang actually have a history, with Yang being one of the very few to ever run down Tiger in an event he lead. But that was the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan, and Yang was in a different group. This would be the PGA Championship, and he’d be staring down the greatest golfer in the world.
That didn’t seem to be much of an issue for Yang.
“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,” Yang said through an interpreter. “The worst that I could do was just lose to Tiger. So I really had nothing much at stake.”
Yang played solid, Tiger once again tight, and when Yang made a spectactular eagle chip at the 14th hole, he leapfrogged Woods into the lead. Add to that a partially-blocked 3-iron on 18 that will be talked about for a long time, and the dead was done, and the Tiger had been slain.
I’ve always thought that Tiger’s greatest assets aren’t his shotmaking but his reputation and his brain, and neither phased Yang in the slightest. He showed no intimidation whatsover in his first head-to-head meeting with Woods, and Eldrick’s temper was in evidence repeatedly as he grew more frustrated with each hole. The debate will rage on as to whether Yang truly won or Woods simply choked – I say both.
Tiger Woods demonstrated that he is indeed human, and is capable of blowing an event that was clearly his to win. It’s worth remembering at this point that while Jack Nicklaus won 18 majors, he also placed second in another nineteen events. For Woods, this will simply add to his runner-up total, but it’s gonna burn for a long time.
The real story, though, must be Yang. Golf in Asia is huge, and the Korean women have dominated the LPGA Tour for the better part of a decade (how many different event winners do they have named “Kim” – six? Seven?). Yang’s victory is the first for an Asian-born player in a PGA major, and while we don’t know if it will be his only major, you can bet it won’t be the last for an Asian golfer.