PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Y.E. Yang said winning the Honda Classic is more significant to him than beating Tiger Woods three years ago.
His reward? Facing Woods again.
Staying alone in the lead the whole way Sunday, Yang shot a 2-under 68 to finish one shot ahead of John Rollins and pick up his first PGA Tour victory.
The Korean took command with three straight birdies on the front side and wouldn’t fold, two-putting from 50 feet on the finishing hole for a winning par. With the win – his eighth worldwide – he picked up a two-year exemption and a check for $1,008,000, qualified for this week’s CA Championship at Doral, plus earned an invitation to next month’s Masters.
Woods will be at both venues.
“To be able to face Tiger again and again, it’s an honor for me,” said Yang, who won the 2006 HSBC Champions in Shanghai, beating a field headlined by Woods.
Yang played last year’s final round at PGA National by himself, going off first and needing only 1 hour, 53 minutes to finish.
He was there until the very end this time, pumping his fists in the air, embracing his agent and translator Michael Yim, and celebrating with fans after closing out the victory. He finished at 9-under 271.
“Pure emotion,” said Yang, who canceled plans to fly to Puerto Rico to play there this week. “I just felt all the fans were supporting me. I just wanted to thank them.”
Rollins made birdie at the par-5 18th to get within two, and Yang missed a 10-footer for par on 17 to lose half his lead.
He held on, though: Yang cringed when his third shot sailed off target at the finishing hole, but coolly two-putted for the win.
“From 50 feet, it’s not easy to do that to win your first golf tournament,” Rollins said. “My hat’s off to him.”
Rollins (67) was alone in second and he, like Yang, qualified for the CA Championship by moving into the top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings. Ben Crane (68) was third after finishing 6 under and Jeff Klauk (71, with 17 pars and one bogey) was alone in fourth, another shot back.
“I have no complaints,” Rollins said. “I did all I can do. Shot 3 under on championship Sunday and came up short.”
He was one of the few guys who made a lasting charge at Yang.
Robert Allenby started with two birdies in his first three holes, but struggled from there and finished 4 under, tied for fifth with Will MacKenzie (70), Fredrik Jacobson (70) and Scott Piercy (65).
Just like last year, when he was in contention during the Honda’s final round before chipping onto a waterside pile of rocks and tossing his ball into the drink, Mark Calcavecchia’s chances were all wet again. The two-time Honda winner’s undoing came at the 11th, when he hit into a greenside hazard. He rolled up his right pant leg, hacked the ball out of some muck and salvaged a bogey, but got no closer and shot 73.
Rory McIlroy – bidding to become the youngest winner in PGA Tour history – worked his way up the leaderboard as well, before consecutive bogeys left him tied for 13th.
“I’m pretty disappointed the way I finished,” McIlroy said.
Davis Love III also was part of the nine-way tie for 13th, which was significant. He earned him just enough world ranking points to move up three spots to No. 50 on Monday – by .0009 points over Anders Hansen of Denmark. That made Love eligible for the CA Championship at Doral this week, and if he stays in the top 50 the rest of the month, Love will return to the Masters.
Defending champion Ernie Els shot 66 and finished tied for 22nd.
Erik Compton’s inspiring week ended with a 72, finishing tied for 44th at 3 over. He will play on a sponsor’s exemption in Puerto Rico, take a week off, then play Bay Hill.
And while walking the 72 holes left him a bit tired – he is nine months removed from getting his third heart – Compton refused to make excuses.
“I’m just stupid enough to think that I can play well enough to win out here,” Compton said.
Yang’s introduction to golf came when he took a job on a driving range as a 19-year-old – the same age McIlroy is now – and didn’t break 100 the first time he played. He didn’t even know there was such a thing as a touring golf pro until after serving 18 months as an armed guard in the South Korean Army.
Now, the son of vegetable farmers is a PGA Tour winner. He prevailed on a day where Korea beat China in the World Baseball Classic, and countrywoman Ji-Yai Shin rallied in Singapore to win this week’s LPGA stop.
“I said to myself, ‘Hey, if they can do it … I’d better do this,”’ Yang said.