Maybe more than anything else, more than the Y.E. Yang powerlift of the golf bag, more than the South Korean Sports Hall of Fame 3-hybrid on 18, more than the chip-in eagle on 14 in front of God and Verne Lundquist – the most enduring image will be a fleeting one.
The look on Tiger's face.
Yang had just made birdie on the 72nd hole of the 91st PGA Championship, had just polished off a 70 in the final twosome with Tiger, had just become the first superhuman to slay the immortal Tiger after a 54-hole lead, and there was Tiger, left to putt out in the biggest anticlimax since Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone's vaults.
Tiger Woods has won 14 majors, second behind
Jack Nicklaus' 18.
As Yang screamed to the heavens, and as Jack Nicklaus sat on a couch in Florida surely with a wry, knowing smile, Tiger stood behind Yang, rolling his golf ball in his hand, readying it for a meaningless putt, while his mug took on a historic hue.
I'd color it: 60 percent pissed off, 30 percent bemused and another 10 percent, somewhere in there, admiring.
In all our years of watching; in all our years of seeing fist pumps from Sawgrass to Pumpkin Ridge to Augusta to Valhalla to Torrey Pines, in eras spanning from dial-up to wireless, from snail mail to Twitter, we've never seen that face. We've seen chip-ins and curling putts, we've seen primal screams and club twirls, but we've never seen that face.
Turns out it's true. You go to a ballgame, you might see something you never saw before.
We're left with maybe the most important question of them all: Will we be seeing that face more in the coming years, as the Quest for 19 spins its wheels in the roadside ditch at the 14-major mark?
It's easy to say we won't see it anytime soon, that Tiger has placed himself in the hunt more frequently at majors the last few years than ever before, and that his constant contention – three out of four times this year, he had a reasonable or extremely reasonable chance to bag a major – means he will soon blow past the 18-Major Rest Stop on the Tiger Highway without even stopping for gas.
Then again, we're seeing things we've never seen before.
We're seeing 6-footers on the first hole – with a chance for a three-shot lead – miss left. We're seeing par-saving putts – the brick-and-mortar of Tiger's legend – on the 12th and 17th holes stay above ground. Remember what the elder statesmen of the game have told us: There's no rule that says all those Tiger putts from earlier years have to keep falling, ad infinitum.
We're also seeing other things: We're seeing bogey-bogey finishes while in contention, as happened to Tiger at both Augusta National and Hazeltine this year. We're seeing missed greens from the fairway or tee box on the 71st and 72nd holes (not to mention the eighth and 12th holes, also), when missed greens would cost him a major championship.
We're seeing Tiger tee off in the final twosome – and shoot 75.
And we're seeing, for the first time in his life, at age 33, Superman's 54-hole cape with a rip in it. Never thought he'd have to send it to a tailor, but he will after blowing his first 54-hole lead at a major, ever.
A layer of his force field has now been dented, and that will, no matter what Tiger says, change things from here on out in the minds of other players.
This year wasn't just an 0-for-4 in Tiger's major ledger. It was a blown chance at Augusta, a blown chance at Bethpage, a missed cut at Turnberry and a blown LEAD at Hazeltine. This is different from other, major-less years in Tiger's career, years like 1998 and 2003 and 2004. Back then, he was changing his swing, a walking construction site.
Moreover, each of those missed major opportunities has come on the heels of Tiger authoring an epic regular-season win, at Bay Hill, or at the Memorial, or at Congressional, or at Firestone.
I believe it was the great poets and deep thinkers from C+C Music Factory who once penned that such events can be filed under "Things That Make You Go Hmmm."
It also makes one wonder if chasing Jack has taken on a new weight as Tiger nears his mid-30s, if the Ghost of Jack looms that much larger as he gets closer and closer and still needs five more majors. Chasing ghosts, it turns out, is a hard day's work.
In short, we've entered a new era in Tiger's otherworldly career at majors: Tiger as Human Being, or Tiger as Mortal Soul.
Who'da thunk it?
Now. We've done some hyperventilating, so at this point in the column, perspective is demanded.
To wit: Jack Nicklaus finished second in majors 19 times, which means that had Yahoo! Sports existed during Jack's career, there would have been 19 opportunities for high-handicapping, know-nothing Yahoo! golf columnists to wonder about Jack's aura, talent and inevitability.
More perspective: Upsets are the lifeblood of sport and life, and Tiger is not immune to the universe's ebb and flow. Before Y.E. Yang, we've all known phenomenal upsets in history – Jack Fleck, Buster Douglas and Lyle Lovett somehow bagging Julia Roberts in her prime.
More perspective: Most guys blow out their knee, have reconstructive surgery and spend the next 14 months crying into their pillows, eating Bon-Bons and lightly pedaling an exercise bike. Tiger blew out his knee in June 2008, and spent the next 14 months bagging five epic tour wins, and nearly winning three majors.
More perspective: And really, it's not like somebody used Tiger's oh-fer in '09 to step up and steal one of his hubcaps. Phil Mickelson? Visited by family tragedy, his year was a wash. Sergio Garcia? Puh-leez. Anthony Kim, as predicted by so many of us? Puh-lez, part deux. Padraig Harrington? If you count making 8s as a key part of catching Tiger, he's your man. Ernie Els? Next! Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Geoff Ogilvy? Nice guys. You know what Leo Durocher said about nice guys.
Instead, it was a four-pack of weirdness at the majors. Don't get me wrong. Great stories, all, in their own right – Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink, Yang – but nobody who looks to be declaring a lasting turf war on the world No. 1.
In the world of conclusion-drawing, then, we're left, in the end, with That Face. The Face We've Never Seen Before.
Tiger blew a 54-hole lead to Y.E. Yang, and it left him pissed off, bemused and, somewhere, way down deep, admiring. In short, it left him changed.
After his major season of 2009, it's time to call it the dawning of a new era, the Era of the Slightly Wounded Tiger.
He's still the baddest feline of them all, and the smart money says he still passes Jack, and then some. It's just that it'll take a while longer, and when he does it, he'll bring some scars to show and tell.
Scorecard of the week
• 73-70-67-70 – Y.E. Yang, champion, PGA Championship, Hazeltine.
Or, as they're saying on the streets of South Korea this morning: Boo yah!
Oh, and don't worry: The Golden Bear is covering the tab at Yang's favorite Korean BBQ joint.
There are so many things to admire about Yang's performance: The legendary hybrid-3 at the 72nd hole, leading to what Nick Faldo accurately called "one of the greatest 3's we'll ever see," the chip-in eagle on 14 that will live forever, and perhaps most impressive, the fact that he didn't wet himself arriving on the first tee box.
Yang was the perfect candidate to be the first to tackle Tiger from behind after a 54-hole lead at a major. It's my "No Scar Tissue" rule when it comes to Tiger.
Clearly, any player in the past decade who has harbored real designs on toppling Tiger – Sergio, Ernie, Phil, Retief, Vijay come to mind – has been reduced, essentially, to quivering rubble if ever squaring off against the Big Fella in a major. The only players to throw real haymakers at Tiger in a major are the guys who aren't obsessed with Tiger, who have enough troubles of their own so that Tiger is the last thing on their mind.
All three threw the best roundhouse punches at Tiger's jaw because, really, what did they have to lose? Finally, one of them knocked the champ out.
Mulligan of the week
• I'm not trying to be a jerk here – really, I'm not – but should we just rename this feature in the column the "Padraig Harrington Mulligan of the Week?" Sort of like a corporate sponsorship.
OK. That's being a jerk. I admit.
For the second consecutive week, however, in a critical moment at a big-time golf championship, we saw Harrington lofting golf balls into the drink like a fly fisherman casting lures into a river – only without the whole "River Runs Through It" poetry to it.
This time Harrington was one shot off the lead at the par-3 eighth hole, and not only sent his tee shot into the waters of Minnesota, but his fourth shot, as well – a near mimic of his floppy into the wet stuff at Firestone.
In what can only be described as a freakish statistical oddity, he made 8 on each hole. Imagine the odds – hit it into the water, make an 8.
And believe me – and I know, I know, you don't – this is coming from a Harrington fan. Swear to goodness.
So let's do everybody a favor, go back to the tee box on No. 8, stick that peg in the ground and … give Padraig Harrington a mulligan!
Broadcast moment of the week
• “It's a good one … it's a really good one … it's WONDERFUL!” – Verne Lundquist, CBS, calling Y.E. Yang's chip-in for eagle on 14 at Hazeltine.
“Verne, it's always you! In your life, you've seen another one.” – Nick Faldo, CBS, accurately reminding us all of Lundquist's magic.
Nobody enjoys giving "Sir" Nick Faldo a little tweak more than yours truly, but a tip of the cap for Faldo summoning the memory of Verne calling Tiger's famous '05 chip-in at the 16th at the Masters, en route to beating Chris DiMarco. Lundquist eloquently and famously – or at least famously for us Verne-heads – called Tiger's chip-in with the goosebump-inducing, “In all of your LIFE, have you seen anything like it?”
Faldo, Nicky on the spot, made the comparison immediately. Verne has now seen something like it, even if Yang's didn't do a "Nike Hang" on the lip for about 15 seconds.
Great moment, great call. Long may you run, Verne.
Where do we go from here?
• We know where Tiger goes. He's going home to his garage where he takes every club out of his bag and does a full Pete Townshend club smash on everything in sight – wooden beams, parked cars, treadmills, you name it. At the end of his "Yang Rage," I fully anticipate to see 14 clubs, scattered in bits, all over the garage, like the end of a concert by The Who.
The rest of the shlubs head to Greensboro, N.C., to fight for scraps to get into the upcoming FedEx Cup playoffs.
Me? I'm headed to Y.E. Yang's place. Hear there's a helluva party going on. And Jack's buying.
- Tiger Woods
- Verne Lundquist