Nearly flawless in the first round. Brilliant in the second. Solid in the third, Tiger Woods had a lead at the PGA at Hazeltine and just about everybody was handing him the Wannamaker Trophy for the 5th time.
Except Y.E. Yang.
The Korean was solid throughout the day and the chip in eagle at 14 gave him the lead. But Tiger didn’t go away. He made a six-footer for birdie there to stay within one. And he made every other 4 and 5 footer to keep the pressure on. I found myself rooting for Tiger. Not to just win, but to make some birdies coming in and beat the other guy. I didn’t want Yang to fall apart a la Padraig Harrington (again). You don’t expect a three time major winner to make an eight on a par three but that’s what knocked Harrington out of contention.
Tiger had his chances but unlike in the past, he:
- Didn’t make everything he looked at
- Didn’t have the kind of distance control he’s famous for.
Faldo is the last guy to be able to control his irons as well as Tiger usually does. It’s the old joke.
Hogan: (to his caddy) “How far is it?”
Caddy: “142, 143.”
Hogan: “Well, which one?”
Faldo won three Masters being able to control his irons down to the yard. Think about it: Every time Tiger takes a swing, you expect the ball to be close. On Sunday, that wasn’t the case. And he didn’t make everything. So Y.E. Yang played steady down the stretch, didn’t fall apart and hit a couple of shots that made the difference.
Like Tiger usually does.
The question is, does Tiger come back and destroy the next field he plays or is this the new version? He’s the best athlete out there, and the best golfer. He’s always been the best putter, as well as the most prepared. I don’t know which one of those could possibly go away, but it was obvious a couple of times on Sunday; it just wasn’t his turn to win.
One of his famous lines as a young player was “Second Sucks.” In this case, I don’t think so. He’ll work harder, figure out why he didn’t win, and he’ll be back to compete as hard as ever. But it does embolden the other players that it can be done. Tiger can be beaten. He has to cooperate, but he can be beaten.
The best thing about the competition is that it actually was a competition. Tiger made some clutch putts, kept it close but the guy he was playing didn’t fall apart, didn’t disappear in the face of the magnitude of the moment.
Yang’s win might grow the game in Asia as you heard the CBS announce crew talk about. But it’ll just make it all that more interesting in America the next time Tiger tees it up.