The PGA Championship starts tomorrow at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin, and it’s sure to be an exciting four days of golf on what is a beast of a golf course. Some high drama is likely to unfold on Sunday given the course, possibly the weather, combined with the pressure of playing on Sunday of a major. But it will be tough to top the Sunday story of last year’s PGA at Hazeltine, when Y.E. Yang won the tournament on the back nine after it was all but a foregone conclusion that Tiger would win after holding the lead for the first three days of the tournament.
This was an amazing story because it was the first time Tiger had lost a major after having the 54-hole lead. It was also an interesting story because he was beaten by a relative unknown, a 37-year-old from South Korea who was ranked 110th in the world golf rankings. Most did not remember that it was not the first time Y.E. had beaten Tiger — Yang had bested Woods at the HSBC Champions in China three years earlier.
Here we take a quick look back at how the 2009 PGA Championship unfolded, and how Y.E. Yang ultimately wrested the Wanamaker trophy from the hands of the seemingly invincible Tiger Woods.
Tiger shot a 5-under-par 67 on Thursday (five birdies, no bogeys) to take the outright lead by a shot over Padraig Harrington. It looked as though the tournament might be shaping up to be a duel between the defending PGA Champion and the world’s #1 player. Also in the mix after day 1 were former PGA Champions David Toms and Vijay Singh.
Strong winds greeted the players on Friday, making the course play tough and making putting even tougher. An up-and-down round including 5 birdies and three bogeys sees Tiger shoot a second round 70, upping his lead to four shots over the field. Harrington and Singh are in a group of five players in second place at -3.
Solid, conservative play marked Tiger’s round on Saturday, carding a third round 71 (two birdies, one bogey), maintaining a two-shot lead at the end of the day at -8. Y.E. Yang enters the story, shooting a 5-under 67 and vaulting into second place along with Harrington, just two back of Woods at -6. Other notables in position to make a Sunday run include Nike athlete Lucas Glover and current Players Champion Henrik Stenson at -4, four shots back of Tiger. Tiger’s steady play and solid putting, combined with his leading the tournament (he is 14-0 in majors when holding the 54-hole lead) seemingly made him a lock to win the title. Being first to post at 6-under ensures that Y.E. Yang is paired with Tiger in the final round, a tough assignment indeed.
The winds return on Sunday, Tiger shows up at the course, but apparently his putter did not get the memo. Tiger had been struggling with his putting in recent tournaments, and this ultimately became his undoing in round 4 of the tournament. Tiger’s lead was gone after a three-putt bogey at #4 and another bogey at #8. Harrington was out of the picture after a disastrous quintuple-bogey at #8, so it was a two-man race heading into the back nine with Woods and Yang tied for the lead.
Woods reclaimed the lead with a birdie on #11, but gave it right back with a bogey on 12. After both players made par on 13 (where Woods’ irritation with his poor putting was starting to show after missing birdie putts inside of 10 feet at 10 and 13), Yang and Woods headed to the short par 4 14th. Yang drove just short of the green, and with Tiger in birdie range Yang made this spectacular chip-in for eagle to take the lead for the first time, a lead he would not relinquish:
The momentum had irreversibly shifted in Yang’s favor, and after both players made par at 15 (where Tiger missed another 10-foot birdie putt to tie the lead) and 16, both players bogeyed 17, meaning Yang’s lead was one shot with one to play against the #1 player in the world.
Then on 18, with both players in good position off the tee, and Tiger needing birdie to force a playoff, Yang hit the shot of his life — a 3-hybrid from out of the first cut, over a tree from 210 yards:
This heroic shot (which reminded me of Corey Pavin’s 4-wood on the 72nd hole at Shinnecock at the 1995 U.S. Open, or perhaps Shaun Micheel’s approach on 18 on Sunday at the 2003 PGA) essentially closed the door on Woods’ chance at the title. Tiger pulled his approach shot just left of the green, and after Tiger missed his birdie chip, Yang made his birdie putt to claim the championship. After missing his par putt, Tiger tapped in for bogey, which was irrelevant to the tournament outcome but indicative of what derailed Woods on Sunday — Tiger took 33 putts (en route to a final round 75), much too many for the final round of a major. Yang’s final round 70 gave him a 3-shot victory over Woods, and in a memorable moment afterwards, Y.E. hoisted his golf bag over his head in victory.
It was a disappointing loss for Woods, who many were calling the winner as early as Friday. But for Y.E. Yang it made him a national hero in South Korea and put him on the international golf map forever. Tiger and Y.E. are paired together again tomorrow and Friday, and it will be interesting to see if either of them can make it back into the mix this Sunday at Whistling Straits.