YE Yang the biggest major surprise of all this season

By Randall MellAugust 16, 2009, 4:00 pm
2009 PGA ChampionshipCHASKA, Minn. ' Golfs been waiting for a different kind of player to look Tiger Woods in the eye and knock him out in the final round of a major championship.
 
Who could have foreseen a player this different?
 
Who could have foreseen Y.E. Yang doing what he did to Woods Sunday at the PGA Championship?
 
Who in their wildest dreams would have imagined that the first player to wrestle away a final-round lead from Woods would be a man who didnt pick up a golf club until he was 19 years old?
 
By that age, after all, Woods had already won five of his six U.S Juniors and U.S Amateurs.
 
Who would have thought the man to wreck Woods perfect record with a 54-hole lead in a major would be so removed from tournament golf on his 21st birthday that he was guarding naval ships while serving an 18-month stint in the South Korean Army?
 
Woods won the Masters when he was 21.
 
Yang introduced himself Sunday as the wildly, brilliantly and wondrously different man golfs been waiting for.
 
Hes a guy who didnt break par for the first time until he was 22 and yet will be forever remembered for breaking Woods in the majors.
 
Yang, 37, will forever be South Koreas version of Francis Ouimet, the former American caddie who took down legendary Brits Harry Vardon and Ted Ray at the 1913 U.S. Open in one of the greatest upsets in history. His victory with Woods in the field at the European Tours HSBC Champions Tournament in China in 2006 makes him golfs only Tiger Tamer.
 
This different kind of man won Sunday at Hazeltine with a different kind of gameplan.
 
Ranked 110th in the world, Yang figured he had nothing to lose, but he wasnt going to lose trying to do too much the way so many players have against Woods.
 
I dont consider myself as a great golfer, he said through a translator. Im still more of the lower-than-average PGA Tour player. So my goal today was to just hit at least even [par], not go over par. I think probably thats the different mindset.
 
Yang needed more than one of the greatest shots ever hit in a major to ruin Woods 14-0 record with final-round leads in majors.
 
He needed a pair of them.
 
With a chip-in from 60 feet at the 14th for eagle, Yang took his first lead.
 
With a magnificent 3-hybrid from 210 yards dead-arrow straight over a giant oak, he sealed his victory at the final hole. He stuck that scary shot straight over the flagstick tucked tight left on the 18th green. He did it with nerveless precision to set up a closing birdie and 2-under-par 70.
 
Ive been around golf a little while, and Ive been around some great players, but Ive never been around a more tough mental competitor, said A.J. Montecinos, Yangs caddie. Just the fact that nothing affects him, whether he makes double or triple [bogey], hes just like, `No problem.
 
It was a Sunday of staggering sights.
 
Who would have thought Woods could miss so many putts with a chance to win in the final round of a major? Who would have thought hed be the guy blowing it with the pressure ratcheting up? Woods bogeyed the final two holes and shot 75, two shots higher than any other round hes posted when leading after 54 holes.
 
Woods clumsily missed a 3-footer for par at the fourth hole and never found his famed clutch putting stroke. His 33 putts made him feel like he beat himself as much as Yang beat him.
 
Its both, Woods said. I was in control of the tournament most of the day. I was playing well, hitting the ball well. I made nothing.
 
Woods gave credit to Yang, too.
 
He did all the things he needed to do at the right time, Woods said.
 
That Yang emerged the winner is a poetic ending to this crazy major championship season.
 
In a year of spoilers, Yangs the ultimate spoiler.
 
Angel Cabrera spoiled Kenny Perrys happy ending at the Masters, Lucas Glover did the same to Phil Mickelson and David Duval at the U.S. Open, and Stewart Cink following suit at the British Open by beating Tom Watson.
 
Woods will be remembered as the final favorite to fall in the years Heartbreak Slam.
 
Yangs victory will go down as wonderful storybook stuff given his history.
 
He didnt pick up the game until a friend took him to a driving range in South Korea when he was 19. He fell in love with the sport and thought he could make a decent living as a club professional. He never saw a future where he would become good enough to beat Woods the way he did at the HSBC Champions Tournament in China three years ago, but that changed with his growing confidence. Paired with Retief Goosen in China, he didnt beat Woods head-to-head, but he started imagining himself doing that. The visions got stronger after he won The Honda Classic in March.
 
I sort of visualized this quite a few times, playing against the best player, if not one of the best players in the history of golf, playing with him in a final round in a major championship, Yang said. Always sort of dreamed about this.
 
Yang walked through that dream in one remarkable Sunday at Hazeltine.
 
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    Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

    Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

    Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

    This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

    While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

    Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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    McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

    Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

    “It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

    “Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

    He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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    Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

    A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

    Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

    Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

    And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”

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    Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

    “You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

    The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

    “He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

    But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

    And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

    It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

    That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

    “I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

    It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

    McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

    “I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

    It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

    “I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

    A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

    Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.