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.