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.”
Calgary’s Stephen Ames finished at 3 over.
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.”