Yang the midpoint leader at Honda

Yang the midpoint leader at Honda

Charley Hoffman made six birdies and three bogeys for a 69.
Robert Beck/SI

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla.(AP) By far, the top moment in Y.E. Yang’s career has been beating Tiger Woods in the HSBC Champions at Shanghai three years ago.

Woods isn’t in the Honda Classic field.

Nonetheless, winning this weekend at PGA National, at least in Yang’s mind, would rank as “the ultimate.”

Yang shot a bogey-free round of 5-under 65 Friday, moving to 7 under through two rounds of the Honda Classic. He’s one shot ahead of Will MacKenzie (67), Jeff Overton (67) and Robert Allenby (68).

“Prior to my win at the HSBC Champions in 2006, people in Korea knew me … but outside of Korea, people really didn’t know me at all,” Yang said through an interpreter. “But after beating Tiger at the HSBC, people starting recognizing me.”

Just as the HSBC was a springboard for Yang, the Honda could easily provide the breakthrough moment a slew of other players are looking for.

Of the top 21 players on the leaderboard, only MacKenzie and Stewart Cink have PGA Tour wins since 2006.

“It just goes to show how much better, more competitive it’s become the last few years,” Overton said. “Tiger raised the bar and it’s unbelievable how good these guys are. It really is. It’s unbelievable how many players have not won yet, but only one guy wins each week. You only have 35 or 40 weeks, you get Tiger winning half of them, so there’s not a lot of room for other players.”

Ben Crane, winless since 2005, shot 65 on his 33rd birthday and got to 5 under, two shots back. David Mathis (68) was alone at 4 under, and six others were at 3 under, including Greg Chalmers (who shot 64, Friday’s best round) and Harrison Frazar (65).

Yang – who needed only 25 putts Friday, one-putting 11 times – hasn’t been in that position much so far.

He’s made one bogey in the first two rounds – the 12th hole on Thursday, and immediately followed that with a birdie. Yang started on the back side Friday, put together one birdie and eight pars before making the turn, and then got rolling with three straight birdies that vaulted him up the leaderboard. A 12-footer on the par-3 7th was his fifth birdie of the day, giving him the outright lead.

From there, he hustled to finish before darkness fell, not wanting an early wake-up call to complete the second round.

No chance of that now – he’ll be going off in the final group Saturday.

“When I started getting those birdies, I was really comfortable,” Yang said.

Erik Compton’s stirring run continued with his second straight round of 69, getting him to 2 under in his second PGA Tour event since undergoing heart-transplant surgery for the second time last year.

“Obviously I have to do some work on the weekend. … Still a lot of golf to play,” Compton said.

Compton walked Friday alongside 14-year-old John Paul George who has a condition called hypoplastic left heart. In layman’s terms, it means the left side of the boy’s heart doesn’t work.

John Paul is 4-foot-1 and looks barely half his age. And he was exhausted afterward – just like Compton – but the boy finished the whole course.

“This is the best day of my life,” Paul said.

Among notables, Rory McIlroy (68) and Cink (71) were five shots back, Sergio Garcia (72) was six shots off the lead and Rocco Mediate (67) was within seven.

Defending champion Ernie Els made an 8-footer for birdie on the par-5 18th hole to get to 3 over, which wound up being the cut line. Camilo Villegas (74) missed the cut by four shots.

Tadd Fujikawa, the 18-year-old from Hawaii, made a 20-footer for birdie on his final hole to reach 2 over for the week, and a big fist pump showed he thought he needed that putt just to play the weekend.

Turns out, he had a little room to spare.

“Very happy with the way I finished,” said Fujikawa, who was last at PGA National through two rounds last year. “In the beginning, I struggled a little bit, but in the end I played pretty well.”

Notes: Mathias Gronberg, who shot 89 on Thursday, shot 43 on the back nine (he started at No. 10) on Friday and withdrew. His score of 132 through 27 holes was only one shot less than Yang needed to play the first 36. … Chalmers moved 74 spots up the leaderboard. … Jeff Klauk had five straight birdies, one shy of Fred Couples’ PGA Tour rookie record. Klauk is part of the six-way tie for seventh at 3 under.

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