Yang admitted to a restless night, but he felt at peace by the time he got to the 1st tee on Sunday. His humility might have been his greatest asset. "I think that great names, when they tee off with Tiger, their competitive juices flow out and they go head-to-head and try to win," Yang said on Sunday night. "I don't consider myself as a great golfer so my goal today was just to shoot even par."
But Yang served notice that he had come to play by knocking down the flagstick on the 3rd hole for a key birdie. When Woods three-putted number 4, he dropped into a tie with Yang. Twice Tiger retook the lead only to give it back with bogeys. Meanwhile, Yang had made eight straight pars when he stepped to the tee of the ? 314-yard, par-4 14th. He immediately reached for his driver.
Two months ago Yang, his wife, Young Ju Park, and their three sons moved to Dallas. Before that they lived in Palm Springs, Calif., "and there was a casino there he would go to all the time to play blackjack," says Yang's former caddie Jason Hamilton. "He would often go home with a couple of thousand dollars in his pocket. The guy is a gambler at heart."
Yang ripped a drive just short of the 14th green and then played a delicate pitch-and-run that clanged off the flagstick and disappeared for a stunning eagle, leading to a lusty fist pump that Yang called "my best Tiger imitation." Now a stroke back, Woods looked increasingly tight and unsure, repeatedly throwing grass in the air and rehearsing his swing. Yang, meanwhile, never stopped smiling, playing with the carefree alacrity of a man who knew history awaited him.
Still a stroke ahead at 18, he smashed a drive down the left side, leaving 210 yards to a pin tucked in the back left corner. Even on the most important shot of his life Yang's tempo was as languid as always, and with a 21-degree hybrid he carved a majestic draw that settled eight feet from the hole. It was a strike of such purity and importance it immediately earned a place in the pantheon of the game's greatest 72nd hole shots, alongside Tommy Armour's three-iron at the 1927 U.S. Open, the one-iron Ben Hogan hit at the '50 U.S. Open, Jack Fleck's seven-iron in ? the U.S. Open in '55, Jerry Pate's five-iron to take the '76 U.S. Open, Sandy Lyle's seven-iron at the '88 Masters, Corey Pavin's four-wood at the '95 U.S. Open and Shaun Micheel's seven-iron at the 2003 PGA. Woods couldn't summon a similar execution, yanking his approach left of the green, and Yang put an emphatic end to a remarkable round by pouring in his putt for a 70 and an eight-under total of 280.
Woods was classy in defeat, saying Yang "played beautifully." At the end of his press conference Woods met his waiting family in the parking lot. Like any dad who's had a rough day at the office, he needed a hug from his little girl, so he scooped up two-year-old Sam and they plopped down together in the driver's seat of a courtesy car, an embrace that lasted at least 20 seconds. After a couple of minutes of talking and giggling, Sam was gently placed in a car seat and Tiger changed out of his spikes while sitting in the driver's seat. Turns out he puts his sneakers on one foot at a time, just like the rest of us.
In the clubhouse, Yang had been ushered into a private ceremony with Hazeltine members and various tournament dignitaries. Yang is not the champion this crowd had been looking forward to greeting, but the polite applause grew louder as he acknowledged the clapping with four long, courtly bows. After lustily downing a flute of champagne alongside his teary-eyed wife, Yang addressed his audience. Tapping his heart, the new champ said, "This has been the best day of my life."
And, undoubtedly, one of the worst of Tiger's.