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PGA Championship: Invincibility gone

CHASKA, Minn. -- First, Santa Claus. And now this!? Tiger Woods is human, after all. And all it took to reveal his earthly vulnerability was a little-known 37-year-old South Korean whose fearless 2-under-par 70 beat the unbeatable front-runner in...

PGA Championship
Y.E. Yang celebrates after his birdie putt on hole the 18th hole gave him the PGA Championship title at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, Sunday, August 16, 2009. At right is Tiger Woods, who finished second. (Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star TribuneMCT)

CHASKA, Minn. -- First, Santa Claus. And now this!?

Tiger Woods is human, after all.

And all it took to reveal his earthly vulnerability was a little-known 37-year-old South Korean whose fearless 2-under-par 70 beat the unbeatable front-runner in the 91st PGA Championship on Sunday at Hazeltine National.

Not since Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open has a mere mortal chopped down a golf god the way Yong-Eun (Y.E.) Yang did Tiger Woods on another windy day in Chaska. Yang's 8-under 280 beat Woods (75) by three shots.

"You never know in life," said Yang, the first Asian-born player to win a major, through an interpreter. "This might be my last win as a golfer, but it sure is a great day."

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Woods started this great day leading Yang and Padraig Harrington by two shots. And since he was 14-0 in majors and 36-1 overall with a 54-hole lead, it was assumed he would win his first major of the year, the 15th of his career and a record-tying fifth PGA Championship.

"This was just a bad day at the wrong time," Woods said. "That's the way it goes."

It just didn't figure

But it had never gone that way for Woods. At least not since a guy named Ed Fiori wrestled the 54-hole lead from Woods, then a rookie, during the 1996 Quad Cities Championship.

Yang came into this tournament as the 110th-ranked golfer in the world. Woods was No. 1, of course.

Yang didn't start playing the game until he was 19. Woods was swinging clubs with Bob Hope on the Mike Douglas show when he was 2.

Yang had one PGA Tour victory, this year's Honda Classic. Woods has 70, which ranks behind only Jack Nicklaus (73) and Sam Snead (82). And Woods had won at least one major each year since 2004.

Yang began the PGA Championship 5 over through 23 holes. Woods led from the first day until the 14th hole on Sunday.

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"Tiger's good, but he could always have a bad day," Yang said. "And I guess today was one of those days."

A year ago, Yang was going through PGA Tour qualifying school. The year before that, the same thing.

Everyday kind of guy

He admitted Sunday to being nervous in his first pairing with Woods.

"I don't consider myself as a great golfer," Yang said. "I'm still more of the lower-than-average PGA Tour players."

Not on Sunday. Not with Woods being confused by Minnesota's unpredictable winds and completely baffled by Hazeltine's greens.

"I was in control of the tournament most of the day," Woods said. "I played well enough to win the championship. I did not putt well enough to win the championship today."

Woods also finished second here to Rich Beem in the 2002 PGA Championship. But his final round back then was a hard-charging 67 in which he birdied the last four holes. Sunday's final round included 33 putts, including a series of puzzling misses by arguably the greatest clutch putter in golf history.

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"I made absolutely nothing," Woods said. "I just have to say terrible day on the greens. And I had it at the wrong time. I either misread the putt or had bad putts. I didn't make anything, except the 14th hole."

Woods made an 8-footer there for birdie. But it came after Yang had chipped in for eagle from 40 feet on a par-4 that was set up at only 313 yards.

Woods held sole possession of the lead until the par-3 fourth hole, where he three-putted for bogey for the second consecutive day. Woods went the entire tournament without a birdie on the par-3s, something he hadn't done since 1997 at Winged Foot.

Challengers drop off

It didn't take long for this to become a two-man race. Harrington's 8 at the par-3 eighth hole dropped him from 6 under to 1 under. U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover got to 6 under and within striking distance on the fifth hole but played the next 13 holes in 4 over to finish fifth at 2 under, a shot behind Rory McIlroy (70) and Lee Westwood.

Nobody in the field shot better than 70 in the most difficult scoring conditions of the week. Bogeys by Woods allowed Yang to tie him at the fourth, eighth and 12th holes. Woods never regained the lead after losing it at the 14th.

Woods played the final four holes in 2 over, including a par at the par-5 15th. He played the par-5s in only 1 under on the final two days.

Yang still led by one when Woods struck what he thought was the perfect tee shot at the par-3 17th hole.

"I made just a sweet swing," Woods said. "Then I got the downwind gust. I couldn't ask for a better swing but just hit it over the top of the flag."

Woods bogeyed the hole. But so did Yang after leaving a long birdie putt far short.

The jaw-dropper

The group moved to the 72nd hole. Woods crushed a drive. Yang found the fairway but was blocked by the trees on the left, very similar to the angle on the shot Woods had during the second round of the 2002 PGA Championship. Woods still calls his 3-iron blast out of the fairway bunker there the best shot he's ever hit.

Seven years later, it would be someone else making a similar shot to prove that Woods is indeed human.

Using a 3-hybrid club from 206 yards, Yang pulled off a shot similar to the one Corey Pavin unleashed on the 72nd hole to win the U.S. Open at Shinnecock in 1995.

Yang's ball settled within 12 feet, close enough for him to make a birdie. But it didn't matter after Woods missed the green and failed to chip in for a birdie that could have forced a three-hole playoff had Yang made par.

Yang birdied. Woods bogeyed. And the world gasped.

"I know Tiger is one of the best golfers in the world throughout the history of golf," Yang said. "I've seen him play a lot. I have the utmost respect for his game. I don't think he had a poor game today, but I'm just glad that he had one of those days today."

Actually, it was the only day he's had like that. Ever.

Related Topics: GOLF
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