Yang avoided big numbers at Honda Classic

March, 8, 2009

It is no exaggeration to say that Y.E. Yang had the best week of his life as a professional golfer. He narrowly escaped the claws of PGA National's Bear Trap to hold off John Rollins by one stroke to win the 2009 Honda Classic.

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In earning the victory, Yang became just the second South Korean-born player to win on the PGA Tour, joining fellow countryman and seven-time PGA Tour winner K.J. Choi. By virtue of his win, Yang is now eligible for the WGC-CA Championship this week at Doral. He also gained entry into the Masters, the Players Championship and the 2010 winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship.

Possibly most important of all, he is exempt through the end of the 2011 season.

Though his win came out of nowhere (Yang had one top-10 in 46 career PGA Tour events), the recipe he used for success is not a new one at PGA National. Yang made birdies early in his round and avoided the blow-up holes while hitting his driver and approach shots at an elite level.

Jack Nicklaus was in the announcer's booth Sunday and shared some great insight into the course he redesigned in 1990. The 18-time major winner made it clear the key to playing PGA National is keeping the ball in play. And that's exactly what Yang did.

While the 460th-ranked player in the world coming into the Honda didn't have nearly the firepower that many players in the field this week have -- he was T-15 in birdies -- Yang avoided the big numbers and was crushing the ball off the tee.

A look at Yang's scoring breakdown compared to his nearest competitors, Rollins and Ben Crane, proves the point, especially when it comes to making bogeys or worse.

Inside the numbers

Yang (-9) Rollins (-8) Crane (-6)
Eagles 0 0 1
Birdies 14 18 19
Pars 53 45 41
Bogeys 5 8 7
Double Bogeys 0 1 4

With only five bogeys and no doubles all week, Yang did an excellent job keeping the ball in play. However, it was apparent that Sunday's pressure and the Bear Trap (holes 15-17) got to Yang as two of his five bogeys for the week came during that stretch Sunday.

Crane had much more of a roller-coaster ride that included an ace Saturday on the 217-yard par-3 5th hole. But he also fell victim to four doubles over the week. Rollins was steadier: He was the only player in the field to shoot all four rounds under par, but he still had eight bogeys on the week. Compared to Yang, Rollins and Crane had four and five more birdies, respectively.

We all know that golf is a game of confidence and it can be very fickle. Yang was able bolster his confidence this week by getting off the tee with much-improved length and setting up birdies early in his round.

Holes 1-4 proved key to Yang's win. Of his 14 birdies on the week, seven came on PGA National's first four holes. It was these early birdies that gave Yang the confidence throughout all aspects of his game. His most important club in winning may have been the driver, but look at what drastic improvement he had across the board this week:

Career week for Yang

Stat Rank (Event) Rank (prior to Honda) Stat (Event)Stat Avg. (prior to Honda)
Driving Distance 13 169 299.8 269.6
Driving Accuracy % 47 151 58.93% 55.67%
GIR % T-3 136 72.22% 64.29%
Putting Avg. T-20 T-145 1.750 1.802
Birdie Avg. T-15 137 3.50 3.36
Scoring Avg. (adjusted) 1 T-42 66.50 70.33
Total Driving T-24 T-187 64 320
Ball Striking 9 171 27 323
All-Around 20 124 588 860
Scrambling 20 T-141 80.00% 55.56%

Yang was astonishingly better across the board this week on a major championship golf course -- PGA National has hosted more majors than any other venue, including 18 Senior PGA Championships. Most notably, he drove the ball 30 yards longer on average this week, ranking 13th at the Honda.

Prior to the event he stood at 169th on the PGA Tour in driving distance. He also ranked third for the week in GIR at 72.22 percent; prior to this event he was ranked 136th in GIR. His scrambling percentage improved nearly 25 percent this week.

• Yang had quite a different experience Sunday at the Honda Classic compared to last year. In 2008, he had a rough Saturday, shooting 43 on the back nine, including a double, a triple and a quadruple bogey. This led to Yang playing Sunday's round as a single player and he finished his final round of 71 in an amazing 1 hour, 53 minutes. He finished T-72.

• Robert Allenby continues to play exceptionally well but not win. This week, he tied Tiger Woods at 30 for the current longest streak of consecutive cuts made. Allenby has not won since 2001 when he captured the Nissan Open and the Marconi Penn Classic. Starting in 2002, he has an amazing 46 top-10s without a win. He now has three consecutive top-5 finishes at The Honda Classic.

• Runner-up Rollins has been another tough-luck customer. Since picking up his second tour win in 2006 at the B.C. Open, he has finished in second five times.

• Northern Ireland teen sensation Rory McIlroy continues to impress. He followed up his T-5 at the WGC-Accenture Match Play last week with a T-13 this week at the Honda.

• Davis Love III has never missed a cut at the Honda Classic and finished T-13 this week in his 15th appearance. Love moved up to 50th in the world rankings with his performance. That is crucial as it qualified Love for this week's WGC-CA Championship on the number. If he can tread water at that ranking for three more weeks, he'll also earn an invite back to Augusta National for the Masters.

• With his win, Yang moved up from 460th in the world rankings to 147th.

• Woods announced Friday that he will be playing this week's WGC-CA Championship at Doral. Tiger has already won three times at Doral. Over his career, Tiger has a career winning percentage of 27.5, but when looking at only WGC events, he takes home the title at a 55.5 percent clip.

Send comments, suggestions, and corrections to Nathan.J.Easler@espn.com.





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