Chaska, Minn. Y.E. Yang shook his fists and shouted with joy over a victory felt around the world. Equally stunning was the sight of Tiger Woods, standing over the final putt of the PGA Championship with nothing at stake.
The final major of the year delivered a pair of shocking developments Sunday.
Yang, a 37-year-old from South Korea who was in PGA Tour qualifying school nine months ago, became the first Asian-born player to capture a major title with a series of spectacular shots on the back nine of Hazeltine.
Even more memorable was the guy he beat.
Woods was 14-0 when he was atop the leaderboard going into the final round of a major. He had never lost any tournament on American soil when leading by more than one shot.
Yang showed everyone how to beat him, from the stars who had failed so many times over the last dozen years, and perhaps to an emerging generation of golfers in Asia, the fastest-growing golf market in the world.
“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.”
When he saw Woods in birdie range at the 14th, Yang chipped in from 60 feet for eagle to take the lead. Clinging to a one-shot lead, a tree slightly blocking his view of the flag on the 18th hole and Woods in the fairway, Yang hit the shot of his life. His 3-iron hybrid cleared a bunker and settled 12 feet away.
And with that, Yang slew golf’s giant.
Yang made the final birdie to close with a 2-under 70, giving him a three-shot victory when Woods missed yet another short par putt and had a 75, his worst score ever in the final round of the major when he was in the last group.
“All the other 14 major championships I’ve won, I’ve putted well for the entire week,” Woods said. “And today, that didn’t happen.”
For Woods, it was the second time he has finished runner-up in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine, both times to a surprise winner. Seven years ago, he birdied the last four holes and came up one short of Rich Beem.
This time, Woods made one mistake after another over the last four holes, mostly with his putter.
“I did everything I needed to do, except for getting the ball in the hole,” Woods said. “Just didn’t make the putts when I needed to make them.”
Yang’s victory is massive for Asia. Perhaps even more significant is the way he stood up to Woods, the world’s No. 1 player whose heritage is half-Asian through his Thai-born mother.
Yang and K.J. Choi are the only PGA Tour players who learned golf in South Korea before coming to America. South Koreans have had far more success on the LPGA Tour, with seven players combining to win 11 majors.
“Golf in Asia has been growing steadily, so to have the guy who finally found a way to beat Tiger on Sunday is so big for the region,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “It’s hard for us here in the U.S. to imagine the impact this will have.”
His victory came four days after golf was recommended to become part of the Olympics in 2016.
Yang was No. 110 in the world, his only victory on the PGA Tour coming in March at the Honda Classic, on a course across the street from headquarters of the PGA of America. He was best known for holding off Woods at the HSBC Champions in China three years ago.
This stage was far bigger and Yang was even better.
He trailed by two shots going into the final round, caught Woods at the turn, and was tied with five holes to play when Yang chipped in for eagle on the 14th. When it looked as though nerves were getting the best of him on a three-putt bogey at the 17th, he delivered his two most important shots that brought him an unlikely victory.
“This might be my last win as a golfer,” Yang said. “But it sure is a great day.”
Yang still had enough strength left to hoist his golf bag over his head, and later the 44-pound Wanamaker Trophy. After a long and tearful embrace with his wife, Young Ju Park, he walked across a bridge saluting thousands of fans who couldn’t believe what they saw.
In a year of spoilers at the majors, this might have been the biggest: Yang topped the mighty Tiger Woods.
Kenny Perry was poised to become the oldest Masters champion at 48 until Angel Cabrera beat him in a playoff. Phil Mickelson, reeling from news that his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, was on the verge of finally winning the U.S. Open until Lucas Glover outplayed him over the final few holes. And just last month, 59-year-old Tom Watson was an 8-foot par putt away from winning the British Open, then lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink.
Woods losing a two-shot lead in the final round of a major? That was unthinkable — until a breezy afternoon at Hazeltine.
Yang finished at 8-under 280 and won $1.35 million, along with a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour and the majors. He became the first player since John Daly in 1991 to win the PGA Championship after going to Q-school the previous year.
One more bonus: His victory put him on the International team for the Presidents Cup in October in San Francisco.
Asian-born players had come close in the majors — Liang-Huan Lu of Taiwan finishing one shot behind Lee Trevino at the 1971 British Open, and T.C. Chen’s famous two-chip gaffe that cost him a chance at the 1985 U.S. Open, where he was runner-up to Andy North.
This could be a big breakthrough for Asian players, especially with a World Golf Championship starting this year in China.
As for the PGA Championship, what remains is whether it will be remembered more for Yang’s victory for Woods losing a 54-hole lead for the first time in a major.
“He went out there and executed his game plan,” Woods said. “He was doing exactly what you have to do, especially in these conditions. I think he played beautifully.”
This was a two-man race throughout the back nine, especially after defending champion Padraig Harrington imploded in the group ahead of them on the par-3 eighth. Harrington was one shot behind when he hit two shots in the water — including a chip from behind the green, just as he did last week at Firestone — and took a quintuple-bogey 8. He shot a 78.
Woods three-putted for bogey at No. 4 for the second straight day and made bogey from the bunker at No. 8, sending the final pairing to the back nine in a tie for the lead.
Woods regained the lead with a 3-wood on the 606-yard 11th hole onto the green, only to give it back with a bogey on the 12th after he hit a wild hook into the trees. He twice missed birdie putts inside 10 feet — at No. 10 and No. 13 — and then momentum shifted to Yang.
With the tees again moved forward to 301 yards, Yang came up just short. He watched Woods play a good bunker shot to 8 feet, then knocked it his chip.
“That’s when I thought, ’I do have a chance,”’ Yang said.
He was steady. Woods was sloppy.
Woods chunked a 3-wood trying to for the green in two at the 15th, then missed another 10-foot birdie putt to tie. Both bogeyed the 17th hole, Woods with a shot he thought was pure until it landed into thick rough over the green.
“Tiger’s good, but he could always have a bad day,” Yang said. “Guess this is one of those days.”