Monday, August 17, 2009

The Answer: Ed Fiori AND Y.E. Yang

So now the answer is Ed Fiori AND Y.E. Yang.

The question is: name all the players who have come from behind no a Sunday in a PGA Tour event to beat Tiger Woods.

Until Sunday, Fiori wore that title the way Sir Nick Faldo wear his knighthood. Fiori hung around on tour for a lot of years but nothing he ever did came close to the fall day in 1996 when he beat the then 20-year-old phenom to win what was then known (I think) as The Hardees Classic. In any event it was at Quad Cities, it was Woods’ third tournament as a pro and those who were there say Tiger made an 8 early and went into an angry tailspin and never recovered.

There were, by the way, quite a few media present. I still remember being at the second President’s Cup that weekend and watching guys making plane reservations on Saturday when Woods took the lead. You could see the PGA Tour staffers looking pale because people were leaving their almost-new event to go see the kid perhaps win for the first time.

After The Grip (Fiori’s nickname) won that day, Tiger led tournaments after 54 holes 36 times over the next 13 years. And he never lost once. Until Sunday.

While all the people you might have thought could challenge him were doing disappearing acts all over Hazeltine National Golf Club, there was Yang hanging with him. To be honest, the thought that Tiger might lose never crossed my mind until Yang chipped in for eagle at the 14th hole. Even then the thought was a brief one. We’d all seen this show before, right? Bob May at The PGA in 2000; Rocco Mediate at The Open last year. Every once in a while a not-so-famous player with nothing to lose would not be intimidated by Tiger and it still wouldn’t matter: if the opponent didn’t find a way to lose, Tiger would find a way to win.

Only this time he didn’t. When Yang three-putted 17, I thought he had come out of his trance and would now bogey 18 (or Tiger would birdie it) and Tiger would win in the playoff. I even said to my brother, who had been in the car all afternoon and was almost home, “you’ll be able to watch the playoff.”

Not so much. Yang hit one of those second shots that will be replayed forever, forcing Tiger to fire at the flag—he missed the green-and, amazingly, it was over before Tiger holed out. Did anyone else notice Stevie Williams nowhere in sight during the handshakes? Can’t figure out if he stalked off ala LeBron or if Tiger turned to him as he was lining up the last putt and said, “you’re fired.”

Hey, I can dream can’t I?

In a way this scenario was perfect for golf. CBS’s ratings for Saturday were up—according to CBS—390 percent from last year. Of course that stat is deceiving because it rained last year on Saturday. But I guarantee, with Tiger in the last group, they’re going to be way up for Sunday too. Combine that with an ending that was DIFFERENT than what we’re used to and it was all good.

Except for Tiger. And for The Grip.

This will now go down as The Year That Wasn’t in golf. Kenny Perry didn’t become the oldest man in history to win a major at The Masters. Instead Angel Cabrera won. Phil Mickelson had a chance to finally win the U.S. Open with his wife facing cancer surgery in two weeks. Instead, Lucas Glover won. We all know how historic a Tom Watson win at The British Open would have been. Stewart Cink has the claret jug. And now Y.E. Yang moves into history not only alongside Fiori but next to Jack Fleck, the club pro who stunned Ben Hogan to win a playoff at the 1955 U.S. Open.

Yang is clearly a smart man. When someone asked if he would like to go head-to-head with Tiger again he shook his head and said (through an interpreter). “No. No rematch, no-redo. I will take this one. It’s enough.”

Reminded me of the last round scene in Rocky 1 when Apollo Creed says, “Ain’t gonna be no rematch,” and Rocky answers, “Don’t want one.”

There will be a lot made of Tiger not winning a major in 2009. Certainly it makes the year disappointing for him, even though he’ll probably roar through the FedEx Cup playoff events and end up with seven or eight wins and another Player-of-the-Year Award.

But anyone who reads anything more into this than the fact that he’s occasionally human is being ridiculous. He is still the co-most-dominant athlete in the world (Michael Phelps) and this simply delays the inevitable slightly, that being him passing Nicklaus’s all-time record of 18 for professional major wins.

Let me also say this: People think I’m hard on Tiger and, sometimes I am. During one of our very few one-on-one talks years ago I told him that I tend to be harder on people I think are smart because they should know better and I put him at the top of that category. He handled a very tough day well yesterday. I didn’t see a club slam (lots of angry muttering, but who could blame him?) and he was gracious in defeat—and let’s remember he’s NEVER been through a loss like this one.

So good for him.

And good for Yang. He doesn’t want a rematch.

I don’t blame him.


Sarah said...

I couldn't wait to see what you would say about this match. It's true, I was rooting for Tiger the whole way-not the underdog like I would do in any other sport. (As a Seahawks fan, I'm used to rooting for the underdog). I just wish he would have lost to someone who has worked a little longer for the championship. If Yang is going to win, I'd like to see him continue in the top spots, not be a one time thing.
But what an afternoon!

Bill said...

I have to agree with Sarah on one point - I think it adds to the story if Yang goes on to continue his little run. What was mentioned little is this....of the Major winners this year, Yang is the ONLY one to have another PGA Tour win. He won the Honda I believe.

So, outside of the Cabrera, I guess he is the MOST accomplished of the Major winners.

Vince Spence said...

It was a very strange year for majors. Cink, Glover & Yang on cloud nine and Cabrera on whatever cloud twenty scotches and eight cigars put you on.

The inevitability of records and streaks is they will usually be broken. Maybe Tiger will catch Jack, maybe not. But, golf is a stern mistress and usually has the last word.

Scott said...

Just curious, but how long before we have to put Usain Bolt into the Tiger/Phelps category? 9.58 is stoopid fast - faster than John Daly on All U Can Eat wings night at Hooters. And that's fast.

Gunndawg said...

I didn't realize that I rooted against Tiger so hard, until I pick a Korean golfer to cheer for after the 8th hole yesterday. When Paddy and Lucas fell back, it was Yang to cheer for, who I had barely heard of prior to this week. Tiger should have been more gracious to Yang in his press conference, Jack was 19 times over. Yang won the golf tournament, on 18, but also on 14, and the other holes coming in. When Tiger kept saying "I played well enough to win...", it drove me crazy. Putting is 50% of playing golf. Distance and wind judgment is just as important as shot execution. It wasn't as if his GIR was all that great on Sunday.

John, Great blog and great job on Mike Gastineau's show in Seattle.

Anonymous said...

Should Tiger have putted first on 18? Yang lay 2 about 12 feet away. Tiger lay 3 apparently just inside Yang, but needed Yang to take one more put than himself to force a playoff.

If Tiger makes his par putt, then Yang is under pressure to get down in two for the win.

This seems the best strategy for Tiger's interests. Instead Yang birdies and Tiger two putts.

Or did Tiger have the option to even go first given his second shot was from off the green?

Anonymous said...

John you are a sports writer you should know that Tiger has lost the 54 hole lead in two tour championships losing to phil and retief as well as quad cities he also has lost a couple of events overseas with the 54 hole lead. Do your research

Wan said...

Hey John. Do you know what exactly happened with Tiger, Stevie and Anthony Kim when they crossed paths (Tiger playing 9th and Anthony finishing 18th). Apparently, some not so pleasant comments were exchanged. Jim Nantz mentioned something about it, but never followed up. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

It bears repeating, Yang beat Tiger at the HSBC, Yang won the Honda, Yang chipped in for eagle and then flushed a hybrid on 18 to BEAT Tiger again. It wasn't Mickelson, Els, Garcia, et al, it was YE Yang.

The PGA is the weakest of all the majors in terms of prestige with the Open and the Masters being the top 2. The PGA should really change to a match play format.