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August 18, 2009

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Yang roars past Tiger in PGA

SOUTH Korea's golf fans spent yesterday in bleary-eyed bliss, the president lavished praise and a farmer in a remote part of the country was stunned after his son Yang Yong-eun pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the sport.

South Korean Yang, 37, became Asia's first male major winner after overhauling Tiger Woods in stunning fashion to clinch the US PGA Championship by three shots on Sunday.

"I had no idea Yong-eun was into golf when he was growing up," said Yang's father, an orange farmer on the resort island of Jeju.

"He played everything: baseball, basketball, volleyball and soccer. But I never dreamt of him becoming this huge world star in golf," Yang Han-joon said.

Raised in a poor farming household, Yang did not take up the sport until he was 19. He got into golf with a job gathering balls at a driving range frequented by tourists to pay for his gym membership and pick up pocket money.

The family struggled as Yang was developing his golf skills and he took several odd jobs to support himself, including working at a nightclub so he could train during the day, Yang said in interviews with local media.

Yang, who at first aimed just to be a pro at a local club, mastered his swing by watching golf greats on video.

He entered the Korean Professional Golf Association in 1997, where he later won the rookie of the year award, and went on to play in Japanese professional golf tournaments in 2004.

Although Yang was a relative unknown until his PGA victory, he was a celebrity in Jeju and at his former high school, where he donated 2 million won (US$1,600) after he won the Honda Classic.

Yang had mostly been overshadowed in South Korea by a slew of successful women and the top Korean golfer on the men's tour KJ Choi.

That was until he battled Tiger Woods in the final round of the PGA Championship.

South Korea President Lee Myung-bak called Yang shortly after he won the tournament to offer congratulations, local media said.


Yang's father said the win had left him speechless and he said he was proud of his son's charity work and efforts to help people struggling on Jeju. "My son is a good athlete, but there can be others from our island. My hopes are that he will be the one to help them grow," he added.

Yang kept his cool when it counted and outplayed Woods, ending the American's perfect mark of winning all 14 majors in which he led going into Sunday.

He played like a dream, overcoming a two-shot deficit in his duel with Woods before seizing the outright lead with a spectacular chip-in for eagle on the 14th hole. Yang capped his stunning upset with a soaring 210-yard approach to within 10 feet of the up at the 18th to birdie for 70.

The Korean created the turning points that usually lift Woods to victory.

After his ball fell in the hole for eagle at 14, he gave a celebration befitting the world number one himself.

"I did let out a bit of emotion with that fist pump," he said. "I tried my best Tiger imitation."


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