Tiger's Loss Caps Off the Summer that Might Have Been
That just happened.
The unbeatable Tiger Woods, the man who had never lost a major when holding the third round lead, lost.
His foil was not Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh, not a grizzled veteran with major championships under his belt. It was 37-year old Y.E. Yang, a former heavy-weight lifter from South Korea who had taken down Woods at the HSBC Champions event in 2006.
Yes, Yang, but I guess you can now call him the "Tiger Tamer" and PGA Champion.
Sure, most thought it might happen one day. One day, the champion of champions would relinquish a lead. Perhaps when his leg popped off or he broke every club in his bag.
Woods is, after all, human. At least we think so. Most of us just never thought that loss would happen this time.
How could we expect Woods to go the entire year without winning a single major?
When he had already won the past two weeks and was coming off a missed cut at Turnberry?
When he had led every round, hit practically every fairway and green and looked like..well...Tiger Woods?
Well, all we need to do is look back and realize that this was not only an opportunity for a monumental upset, it was the perfect opportunity.
2009 is simply the most improbable year in major golf history. Four amazing stories all came to a crashing halt under completely unforeseen turnarounds.
Take a stroll down memory lane with me.
Kenny Perry, vying for his first ever major and redemption after his PGA Championship collapse in a playoff over a decade ago, blew a two-shot lead with two holes remaining at the 2009 Masters. Perry would ultimately lose in a playoff to Argentinian Angel Cabrera and left him wondering what could have been.
Of course, that sense of missed opportunity is something Phil Mickelson has come all to accustomed to at the U.S. Open. Mickelson entered Bethpage Black with a huge wave of support following the announcement that his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with cancer.
Many wondered if Mickelson could focus on golf with all the distractions but the loving New York gallery propelled him to a tie for the lead late in the final round before a terrible 17th hole left him in the dust of unheralded Lucas Glover.
The result was not an epic win for the ages but his fifth second-place in the major he so desperately craves.
The storybook ending was also denied to fellow competitor David Duval, a former British Open winner that had fallen to 882nd in the world. Duval climbed from an inconceivable abyss of doubt and frustration to be in contention.
However, the biggest storybook tale was going to be that of Old Tom Watson at Turnberry in the Open Championship just a month ago.
Watson, a five-time British Open winner and 59-years young, held off national heroes like Lee Westwood and Ross Fischer to take a one-stroke lead on the 72nd hole. He had a wonderful approach that went just two yards too far over the green and the eight-footer went begging.
In the end, Watson's pushed final par putt cost him against fellow American Stewart Cink, a man who had birdied the 18th. The legendary Watson simply ran out of gas and Mr. Nice Guy Stewart Cink became one of the biggest villains in golf history while claiming his first major.
Which leads us to today.
As good as all these players were, many of them major winners, all of them have had their fourth-round blunders before. When Mickelson falters it's a punchline not a headline.
Woods live off of other people's mistakes. He sits and watches his prey melt under the spotlight and walks to his coronation on the 18th green.
He had his opportunity on the 17th green to do just that. With Yang still six-feet out for par (and on his way to bogeying), Woods had a chance to nail his own par putt and potentially tie for the lead with a miss.
Let's face it, Tiger Woods does not miss those kind of putts. This is from the guy that made the clutch birdie on 18 against Rocco Mediate, twice. He made a side-winder on the 18th against Bob May to force a playoff and he made the greatest chip of all-time against Chris DiMarco in the 2005 Masters.
Well Woods, as he did throughout the day, missed. Yang, then channeled Shaun Micheel on the 18th to stick his approach within twelve-feet and knock out the ultimate champion by a jaw-dropping three strokes.
Yang not only won, he beat Woods by five strokes. Only twice has a playing partner in the final round bested Tiger's score before today but never like this.
Indeed, in the year of the improbable the impossible happened today.
For the first time since 2004, none of the four major championships will be in the hands of one Eldrick Woods.
Fear not though Tiger fans, 2010 may just be the year of an epic comeback. After playing the Masters where Woods has already won four times, the U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach where Woods humiliated the field by winning with a ten-stroke cushion. That is followed up by a British Open at St. Andrews where Woods has already won twice.
Until then though, all we can do is sit back and wonder about the year that defines explanation.
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