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Y.E. Yang upsets Tiger Woods at PGA to become first Asian-born major champion

Y.E. Yang, PGA Championship
Fred Vuich/SI
Y.E. Yang defeated Tiger Woods by three strokes to become the first Asian-born player to win a major.

CHASKA, Minn. — And so ends the Year of the Buzzkill.

Korea's Y.E. Yang made sure the major championship season concluded just as it began — in disbelief and discombobulation. On Sunday, Yang did what had never been done, what we weren't entirely sure was possible, when he came from behind to snatch the 91st PGA Championship from the heretofore invincible Tiger Woods in a tense, thrilling finish at Hazeltine National.

It was a jaw-dropping finale — thanks to Yang's scintillating hybrid shot to 10 feet on the 72nd green for the clinching birdie — to a jaw-dropping year. Nothing happened the way it was supposed to in the 2009 majors, or so it seemed. The winners weren't necessarily the people's choices or the biggest names, and the stories weren't the stories that most of the writers were hoping to write.

Think back. Nice guy Kenny Perry becomes the oldest Masters champion at 48? Oops! Say hello to Angel Cabrera. Phil Mickelson finally gets his U.S. Open, after so many near misses, as his wife is fighting breast cancer? Oops! Say hello to humble nice guy Lucas Glover. Tom Watson goes three up on Father Time to become the golfing miracle of the ages by winning the British Open at 59? Oops! He badly misses his last par putt and suffers through a deflating playoff to Stewart Cink, the champion golfer (and golfing Twitterer) of the year.

Woods continues to rewrite the history books in the year's last major? Oops! Say hello to Yang, a late-blooming 37-year-old who once guarded a naval port during a mandatory tour of duty in the South Korean military and who was first noticed in America when he won this year's Honda Classic.

Yang's beating Tiger ranks with the greatest upsets in golfing history — Francis Ouimet over Harry Vardon, Jack Fleck over Ben Hogan and Brian Barnes over Jack Nicklaus (twice in one day during the Ryder Cup).

"This might be my last win as a golfer," said Yang, who won over interviewers with his enthusiasm and humor, which was apparent even through an interpreter, "but it sure is a great day. It means the world right now."

At Hazeltine, we were expecting to see history. This was going to be Tiger's 15th major, which would've made it mathematically possible for him to pass Jack Nicklaus's 18 by the end of next year. (Now Jack is safe until 2011.) Few saw this one coming. Not when Tiger had already won four PGA Championships and was poised to land career victory No. 71 to move within two of Nicklaus in that category. Instead, we saw history of a different sort.

Tiger had never lost a major after starting the final round with the lead. Oddly enough, Woods had been criticized by some during his comeback from knee surgery for his ballstriking and swing, but on Sunday it was his putter that let him down. Woods, who had 33 putts, made only one of any significance, a clutch birdie at the 14th hole after Yang chipped in for a stunning eagle to take the lead.

"I played well enough to win the championship," Woods said. "I did not putt well enough to win the championship today. I didn't get it done on the greens, and consequently, I didn't win the tournament."

Did Yang, No. 110 in the world rankings, win this PGA Championship? Or did Tiger, No. 1, lose it?

Yes and yes. Yang shot two-under 34 on the final nine to close the deal. He earned it. But Woods also let it slip. He looked so sharp in the opening rounds, when he posted 67 (tied for low score of the week) and 70, that it was difficult to believe he would be capable of shooting over par on the weekend. This week never looked like anything but wire-to-wire Tiger.

Don't be misled by his final 75. It should have been better. He bogeyed the 17th on Sunday when he hit a superb iron shot too long; it went right over the flag but airmailed the green. At 18, he missed the green left after Yang stuck that gutsy, memorable hybrid shot close. Woods made a bad chip and missed an irrelevant par putt. It was a decidedly un-Tiger-like finish. Yang, meanwhile, did what Tiger usually does — finish strong.

"It was a terrible day on the greens at the wrong time," Woods said. "I've been putting pretty good the last three days, the last three weeks. Today was not very good at all. I had a few misreads out there, and I hit some bad putts as well."

Woods missed makeable birdie putts on Sunday's first two holes, then set the tone for the day at the par-3 fourth. His tee shot carried long, some 35 feet past the pin, and he three-putted for bogey. That was the first sign that, for once, Tiger might be catchable. Yang, who had birdied the third hole, tied Woods for the lead with a par at the fourth. Woods dropped another stroke at the par-3 eighth when he caught the left greenside bunker, ran his sand shot across the green to the fringe and missed his par putt.

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