The four-time champion was a lock. After all, given a lead heading toward the finish, the man had been well-nigh invincible. Then, the unthinkable happened. He made errors and some bad pitches, and the underdog prevailed thanks to a timely hit.
The Tiger Woods-Y.E. Yang saga at the recent PGA Championship is similar to the storyline of the 2001 World Series, when the New York Yankees and their dominant closer, Mariano Rivera, faltered in Game 7 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Going for their fifth title in six years, the Bronx Bombers not only lost a game and a Series, but they also relinquished their air of invincibility -- and haven’t regained it. In terms of competitive balance and excitement, it’s the best thing that ever happened to baseball. In the last eight seasons, seven teams have won a World Series, and instead of being a foregone conclusion, each October is a wildly exciting crap shoot.
There’s a lesson here for us golf fans, especially those who believe a major is not worth paying attention to unless Tiger is blowing away the field. The thrilling (and ratings-grabbing) denouement at Hazeltine and the results of the other 2009 majors open a wide world of possibility, and not merely because Yang is the first male from Asia to win a major. Sure, at Augusta National next April, Woods again will enter as an overwhelming favorite. If Tiger is not the winner, the champion probably will have to go through him (just as several recent World Series winners have had to go through the Yankees). But now that Yang stared him down and took him out, there will be a delicious air of uncertainty that will extend into Sunday.
Moreover, the new blood in the majors was a much-needed transfusion. Many time-honored Tiger foils whom we once counted on to show up on Sundays at the big events (Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Jim Furyk) have faded. The 2009 season added three new major champions — Lucas Glover at the U.S. Open, Stewart Cink at the British Open and Yang — and one new multiple-major winner, Angel Cabrera. All prevailed with gutsy late play. True, to paraphrase the old song, for all we know, they may never win again. But they join the ranks of those who have major cred. There are also non-winners who forever threaten to get over the hump. (Dare we compare Sergio Garcia to the Cubs?) The presence of Woods in his prime combined with the sudden sense that the majors are there for the taking could provide a needed jolt for a sport that often has relied, or over-relied, on Tiger for buzz.
So, much in the way that Diamondbacks’ win seemed to embolden the rest of baseball, the Yang victory could usher in an era of giant-slaying, crowd-pleasing competition. Certainly, we are now forewarned: Don’t leave the set until the final putt has dropped. For the first time since Tiger came on the scene, in golf as in baseball, it ain’t over till its over