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Yang, not Woods, makes history at Hazeltine

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

CHASKA, Minn. – As the PGA Championship crept closer to an ending only one man foresaw, suddenly the clamor for information was on.

Who was Y.E. Yang?

Who was this little man in white, daring to stride shoulder-to-shoulder with Tiger Woods, while displaying the game of an angel and the heart of a lion? Rumor and fact make uncomfortable bedfellows at times like these and there were plenty of conflicting stories. Some said Yang stood 5-foot-8 while others insisted 5-10.

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Y.E. Yang, left, finished three strokes ahead of Tiger Woods.
(Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Television coverage reported that he didn't take up golf until the age of 19, while South Korean journalists were adamant that he had enjoyed a decent but unspectacular junior career.

In the end, it was all irrelevant because there was only one piece of information that mattered: Y.E. Yang is the 2009 PGA champion.

The soft-spoken and unheralded 37-year-old from the island of Jeju succeeded Sunday afternoon where so many others have failed and if ever a major championship should come with an asterisk for the right reasons, it should be this one.

Unlike a full generation of players who could not topple Woods when he went into the final round of a major with at least a share of the lead, Yang looked into the eye of the red-shirted Tiger and had the fortitude and temerity to lay down the gauntlet.

Yang cared not a shred for the perfect streak, for 14-for-14, for inevitability. He cared not for Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, David Duval and the other big names who couldn't cut it when Woods flashed his Sunday mojo at a major.

Neither was he content to become nothing more than a plucky challenger, a footnote in history like Bob May, Chris Di Marco or Rocco Mediate.

From the start of a final round which seemed destined to end with Woods calmly collecting his 15th major, the odds were against Yang, stacked up like so many snarling naysayers. Yet this polite and gracious man from a nation better known for the brilliance of its female golfers spat in the face of doubt and deservedly prevailed on an incredible afternoon in Minnesota.

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Y.E. Yang eagled the 14th hole to take the lead over Tiger Woods.
(Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

He played through the throng, swapping dozens of spectators for his earlier rounds for thousands here. All the distractions, the crowd, the movement, the television crews, as well as the aura of a living legend, could not prevent him from producing a round from the heavens.

He played through history too, that of Woods' and that of his continent, becoming the first Asian-born man ever to win a major.

This was a different kind of Sunday, one golf isn't used to, at least not when Woods is hanging around. This was a different kind of hero, a different kind of story; one without the usual dose of super-stardom but one laced with vibes of a heart-warming nature.

The gallery started to believe on 14, when Yang chipped in with a miraculous eagle to wrest the outright lead. But the inner confidence had lain within well before that, ever since the final-round pairings fated these two men toward a Sunday tandem.

"I had thought recently about playing with Tiger and I was surprised it came about so soon," Yang said through an interpreter. "But I wanted this, I wanted this challenge. At times it could be intimidating because of what Tiger is capable of but I wanted to live it."

A previous PGA Tour victory at the Honda Classic this year showed his mettle, but was no real preparation for rigors such as these. There were precious few signs of nerves, though.

The 17th was a blip, a poorly struck putt resulting in bogey as Woods uncharacteristically faltered alongside him. Coming down 18, though, it was Yang who looked stronger, rifling in a superb approach to effectively wrap up the title.

The golfing gods didn't smile on their favorite son this day, instead deferring to a player ranked 110th in the world yet with the strength of a champion.

The celebration after his winning birdie putt on 18 was a joy to behold, as Yang seized his golf bag and hoisted it aloft like a weightlifter. A few minutes later he struck a similar pose again, this time with the Wanamaker Trophy.

"This might be my last win as a golfer," Yang said. "But it sure is a great day. It means the world to me; it hasn't sunk in yet but I know the significance of it."

The statistics show Yang finished at 8 under with a winning margin of three strokes. But raw figures don't do justice to the day when an unlikely contender finally showed the heart and nerve to triumph in Woods' personal domain.

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