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US PGA Championship: Everything changed the day Yang tamed Tiger

Y E Yang

Missouri, August 7: On the morning of August 16, 2009, as Tiger Woods prepared to defend a two-shot lead in the final round of the US PGA Championship, it is safe to say you would have got some strange looks had you predicted Y E Yang would win more majors than the American over the next nine years.

Many factors have contributed to Woods enduring a drought in majors that now spans more than a decade, a scenario that would have seemed unthinkable when he effectively won the US Open on one leg in June 2008.

The two most frequently cited reasons for his relative lack of success in recent years - and it is easy to forget he topped the rankings again as recently as 2013 - are familiar to even the most casual sports fan.

A humiliating infidelity scandal, which came to light in November 2009, did much to dent Woods' aura of apparent invincibility, with his subsequent televised mea culpa equally shocking and uncomfortable to watch.

Woods may play down the impact of his personal troubles on his playing career, but there can be no doubt he has been severely hampered by injury, having undergone four back surgeries and a succession of lengthy lay-offs prior to his hugely encouraging return to regular action this year.

However, all of that pain - relating to both his private life and back problems - was preceded by the most shocking defeat of Tiger's career.

August 16, 2009 was the day everything changed.

Already a five-time winner that season following his return from injury, Woods was not merely the favourite heading into the final round of the US PGA at Hazeltine; his 15th major victory was viewed as an inevitability.

Although his advantage, which stood at four shots through 36 holes, had been halved in round three, everyone knew what happened when Woods led or co-led on the Sunday of a major.

He won. Every single time.

All 14 of his successes had come from a position of strength with 18 to play (conversely, Woods has never come from behind in the final round to win a major).

So, although defending champion Padraig Harrington - tied-second with Yang at the start of Sunday and the winner of three of the previous nine majors - represented a worthy challenger and Henrik Stenson another notable contender, nobody really expected anything other than another Woods to triumph in Minnesota.

The unheralded Yang, Woods' surprise playing partner on the last day, was certainly not anticipated to cause an upset. Ranked 110th in the world, he boasted a career-best finish of tied-30th in majors, a far cry from the glittering CV of the man he was paired with.

However, Yang did have one thing on his side. He had won a tournament with Tiger in the field – the 2006 HSBC Champions – and clearly believed he could repeat the feat.

The South Korean went on to deliver a magnificent performance under pressure as Woods, usually the most ruthless of front-runners, stunningly faltered.

Even when he trailed with one hole to play, Woods would still have been many people's favourite.

Yet that was when Yang delivered the most impressive blow of all: a Tiger-esque, towering approach to the 18th with a hybrid that set up a stunning closing birdie and ultimately secured a three-shot victory.

Woods was not only expected to triumph at Hazeltine; at that stage, the prevailing view was that he would go on to surpass Jack Nicklaus' record haul of 18 major titles.

Nine years on, Tiger's wait for a 15th win continues.

Supporters of golf's biggest icon can retain optimism ahead of this week's 100th staging of the US PGA at Bellerive.

Woods has not only defied expectations by competing regularly this year after his latest back surgery, he has threatened more than once to win an 80th PGA Tour crown, most notably when he generated huge excitement by moving into the lead at The Open Championship last month with only nine holes to play.

He again looks capable of winning the biggest prizes, but - for the time being, at least - it remains a fact that Yang has tasted major glory more recently than Woods.

You would not have believed it nine years ago. We can barely believe it now.

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    Story first published: Tuesday, August 7, 2018, 14:10 [IST]
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