Y E. Yang Breaks Through with Win the 2009 Honda Classic

Yang celebrates with the trophy after winning The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa.   Photo Credit: Getty Images

Yang celebrates with the trophy after winning The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Y.E. Yang has something in common with K.J. Choi other than their Korean heritage and international victories. He is now a winner on the PGA Tour having captured the 2009 Honda Classic in convincing fashion.

After a 65 on Friday vaulted him into the lead, solid steady rounds of 70 and 68 over the weekend earned him the victory and the $1,008,000 winner’s check.

It will also cause him to change his travel plans to play in the WGC-CA Championship this week in Miami instead of the Puerto Rico Open presented by Banco Popular. Plus, there is an invitation to the Masters coming in the mail.

After beating Tiger Woods and winning the 2006 HSBC Champions, Yang admits to having a lapse in goals after that win enabled his first Masters appearance. In addition, that win brought more invitations to play in the most competitive world golf events.

With no victories against the better competition, Yang’s confidence suffered. Even in his gracious acceptance speech, complete with prepared notes for him and his interpreter he said “I didn’t think I could win.” But win he did, in convincing fashion.

It was a day where several contenders tried to narrow the gap over the course of the day where the golf course, Jack Nicklaus’ backyard baby, the Champion at PGA National played tough as the wind blew and the Florida sun continued to shine.

Temperatures hovered around 80 degrees the entire week and by Sunday afternoon the greens and even some fairways turned that crusted brownish color indicating their firmness and difficulty.

But as each contender emerged, Yang maintained the gap and played the right card and in the end his being one stroke better than anyone else translated into his first win in America.

First to keep Yang honest was his playing partner, Jeff Klauk, who stayed as close as he possibly could the entire front nine.

The 31-year old rookie, playing in only his eighth PGA TOUR event, carded all pars except for the par-4 14th hole, where his tee shot found the water.

Though the lack of birdies was as noticeable as the Florida drought, Klauk’s fourth round score of 71 earned him solo fourth place and a check for $268,800.

This surely will whet his appetite for more competition with more success not that far down the road, maybe even in Puerto Rico.

“I played well. Just couldn’t really get any momentum going, but made some nice putts for par, and unfortunately didn’t make any for birdie.”

Next to challenge Yang was Robert Allenby with four birdies in his first 10 holes being offset with one bogey on No. 4.

However, he faltered down the stretch with bogeys on Nos. 12, 13, and 18 to finish tied for seventh place with Will MacKenzie and Fredrik Jacobson. All three golfers shot even-par 70 on Sunday.

The biggest challenge came from John Rollins, the only golfer to record four rounds in the 60s this week. Rollins got hot mid-round with birdies on Nos. 8, 9, 11, and 12. But his performance was matched by Yang, who birdied No. 12 to get to 11-under par for the tournament.

Rollins bogeyed No. 15 and was watching scoreboards and saw what seemed to be an insurmountable gap.

“I got on the 16th tee and I saw that I was four back. So at that point, I felt that I had three holes to buckle down and really focus on second place.

“And if something happened, something happened. I honestly was playing for second place. When I was four shots back, I was playing as hard as I could to make sure I didn’t come back to the guys behind me and at least get second by myself.”

Rollins second place finish was worth $604,800 and came with an invitation to next week’s WGC-CA Championship. Since that is an $8 million event with no cut, it is a guaranteed paycheck.

Though his play for second place almost led to a playoff for first place, Rollins was pleased with his performance and had hearty congratulations for the winner.

“It’s not easy out there. He had it 11-under par at one time, and I’m just thinking, man, where is that? Where is 11-under par out here? I was doing all I could just to get to 8-under.

“But I’m very happy. I did all that I could do today. I shot 3-under par, like I said, on a tough golf course to give myself a chance to win. And you can’t frown at that.”

Ben Crane, who rode a roller coaster on Saturday with an ace on the par-3 fifth hole and two double bogeys, shot 68 on Sunday to finish solo third and earn $380,800. He takes away all positives from this week’s work.

“I’ve put a lot of work in with my instructor, and I am playing better than I have ever played. I’m physically fit more than I ever and working with my mental coach. I just feel like everything I’m doing, I’m just going the right direction.

“I’m trying not to press for results, just keep plugging away and I’m really encouraged after a great finish today.”

The big winner, though, was Yang, who was relieved after facing a tough two-putt for par from 49 feet on the 18th hole to maintain his one stroke lead over Rollins.

“That putt was not an easy putt. It was actually pretty intimidating. Looking at the green conditions on that hole, I just asked myself, what do I need to do to two-putt this?

“You know, the grass was leaning towards the water. It was a downhill putt. It was very hard to determine the speed. I asked myself, how strong do I have to hit it? But once I made the decision, it was simple; just execute.”

And execute he did, leaving himself a tap-in for his first PGA Tour victory.

On Saturday, Yang characterized his even-par round of 70 as: “I just didn’t make the putts that I needed to, the birdie putts. All five of the birdie chances I had missed the hole ever so slightly. I think that was the big difference, not being able to make the putts.”

At the end of the day on Sunday, his scorecard showed that he made the five birdies he needed on Nos. 3, 4, 5, 8, and 12 to offset bogeys on Nos. 6, 15, and 17. Though the famed “Bear Trap” of hole Nos. 15, 16, and 17 caught him a bit he still captured the victory.

“I think my dreams are now bigger, now that I’ve won here. My expectations are higher.”

Competition against the world’s best golfers awaits Yang down the road at Doral at the WGC and at the Masters and Players for sure.

Yang uses an interpreter at his media interview sessions. When asked how good his English is he replied: “I think my English is just good enough just to get around.”

Well, he got around PGA National in stellar fashion this week and interestingly enough, when asked about those five birdies that helped him win today, he described them to a “tee” using the English language!