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August 18, 2009

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Asia celebrates major triumph

YANG Yong-eun entered territory where no Asian male had gone before by winning the US PGA Championship on Sunday.

Despite several near misses since Chinese Taipei's Lu Liang-huan ran Lee Trevino desperately close at the 1971 British Open, the golfing world had patiently awaited the first Asian-born winner of a major.

Yang's astonishing breakthrough at the expense of Tiger Woods on a sun-splashed afternoon at Hazeltine National was simply a matter of time, according to the American world No. 1.

"It was going to happen one day," Woods, who has a Thai mother, said. "If anyone would have thought it would have been a Korean player, people probably would have suspected it to be KJ (Choi) because obviously he's played well for such a long period.

"But Y.E. has won now a couple of big events. He won one here in the States prior to this down in West Palm (Beach) and he's getting better. He's playing better.

"We've had a lot of great players over the years, starting with Jumbo (Ozaki), and Isao (Aoki) has come close," added Woods.

Since the popular Mr Lu with his distinctive pork pie missed out to Trevino by a stroke at Royal Birkdale, Asia has celebrated only two other second-place finishes at major championships. Japan's Aoki, one of golf's best exponents of the short game, broke the 72-hole scoring record in the 1980 US Open at Baltusrol but even that was not enough as Jack Nicklaus trimmed it by another two shots to win.

In the 1985 US Open at Oakland Hills, Chinese Taipei's TC Chen equalled the tournament record for the first 36 and 54 holes but his victory hopes disappeared with a 77 to tie for second, a stroke adrift of Andy North.

In recent years, Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, Japan's Shigeki Maruyama of Japan and Korean Choi have raised hopes in Asia, but it was Yang who finally wrote his name into the record books.

Max Garske, chief executive of the PGA of Australia, said the biggest room for growth is in China, where the Australian PGA is in the second year of a program with the China Golf Association to train between 5,000 to 10,000 Chinese coaches.

"They've got about 1.1 million who have memberships at golf courses, and in excess of 350 golf courses," Garske said. "They are growing at about 40 percent a year, and working very hard on their elite player program. Yang's win will help there as well as everywhere else."


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