March 7, 2009

All Heart At The Honda

Both Y.E. Yang and Erik Compton showed resolve at the Honda Classic. But as Mark Soltau explains, the context was different

After his win at the Honda Classic. Y.E. Yang can expect to move up from his spot as the world's 460th-ranked golfer

After his win at the Honda Classic. Y.E. Yang can expect to move up from his spot as the world's 460th-ranked golfer

Sunday was a huge day for professional golf in South Korea. First, LPGA rookie Jiyai Shin overcame a two-stroke deficit to win the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore. Then unheralded Y.E. Yang, ranked 460th in the world, held on for a one-stroke victory over John Rollins in the Honda Classic, becoming just the second South Korean -- K.J. Choi being the first -- to win on the PGA Tour.

Neither player was thinking win starting the week. Shin, who earned $300,000 thanks to a final-round 66, was shooting for a top-10 finish. Yang, who closed with a 68 to collect a $1 million, was hoping to pad his bank account and avoid returning to PGA Tour Qualifying School.

Instead, with the win, the 37-year-old Yang secured a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour and invites to the Masters Tournament and the Players Championship. His previous best showing was a tie for ninth last year at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Yang, who turned pro in 1996, did display promise in the past, making 17 of 23 cuts in 2008 to rank 157th on the money list with $461,726. But it wasn't enough to retain his card.

The South Korean has a beautiful golf swing and averaged 300 yards off the tee at Honda. However, he was almost done in by the Jack Nicklaus-designed "Bear Trap" at Champion Course at PGA National. Disaster lurks at the grueling, water-lined 15th, 16th and 17th holes, and tagged Yang for a pair of bogeys on Sunday. But he collected himself and made a nice two-putt par from long range at the par-5 18th hole. When the win was assured, Yang pounded his heart with his right fist.

What it all means: Yang and Rollins played their way into the WGC-CA Championship at Doral. Sergio Garcia is also in, but will need to improve his putting to contend. His forgettable, round-by-round stats at Honda: 31, 32, 32 and 31 putts. Still, he led the field in greens in regulation and tied for 13th in the tournament.

__Birdie of the week:__What a week for Erik Compton. Playing on a sponsor's exemption less than a year after receiving his second heart transplant, Compton opened with a pair of 69s and tied for 44th. More remarkable is it came just a week after he and wife Barbara became first-time parents. Compton has also accepted a sponsor's exemption for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Bogey of the week: Granted, Golf Channel personality Charlie Rymer was only trying to drum up interest in the tournament, so he went out on a limb earlier this week and predicted that former world No. 1 David Duval would win the Honda. Rymer's rationale was the Duval had been working hard with swing coach Puggy Blackmon and was near good form. Oops. Duval shot 82-75 and missed the cut by 14 strokes.

Shot of the week: Ben Crane made a hole-in-one at the 162-yard fifth with a 9-iron Saturday. It was the sixth ace in Honda Classic history and the first in seven years.

Runner-up: Eighteen-year-old Tadd Fujikawa of Hawaii made a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole Friday to make the cut at the Honda Classic. It was the second cut Fujikawa made this year after tying for 32nd at the Sony Open. At the Honda, he closed with a 69 to tie for 52nd.

Mad about McIlroy: Youngster Rory McIlroy continues to impress. The 19-year-old from Northern Ireland tied for 13th after a final-round 69 -- this after winning in Dubai and reaching the quarterfinals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship

"Yea, it's been huge," said McIlroy, who will also be in the field for the CA Championship. "I knew my game was there. Just a matter of time before my game broke through. I didn't feel as if I played that well this week, but I was still able to get around and still able to post a respectable finish. I'm pretty pleased with that, and I'm hoping to do a little better next week."

On the move: Rookie Jeff Klauk. He recorded a career-best fourth-place finish at Honda and has made seven-straight cuts this year. He also has a tie for 11th at the Buick Invitational and a tie for 12th at the Sony Open.

Also worth tracking is rookie David Mathis, who made his sixth consecutive cut and tied for 27th, the best showing of his career.

Quote of the week: "About five seconds. If you had a stopwatch. There's just no point worrying about it, because then it affects the rest of your life...It could affect the next hour, two, three, four, in decisions that you make. It's just pointless." -- Robert Allenby, on how long it takes to forget a bad shot.

__Next stop:__Tiger Woods makes his first appearance in a stroke-play event since his U.S. Open victory last year when he tees it up at the CA Championship. Woods said his surgically-repaired left knee felt fine last week after competing in the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona, where he lost a second-round match to Tim Clark. He reported no swelling or soreness. The Blue Monster has been good to Woods. He won there in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and finished fifth last year. There is no cut at Doral, assuring Woods of playing 72 holes for the first time since his Open win at Torrey Pines.

__Missing in action:__Good guy Brandt Snedeker is off to a slow start in 2009. He's missed four of five cuts, most recently at Honda, where he shot 79-69 and has broken 70 only three times. His best showing is a tie for 42nd at the Buick Invitational. After winning twice on the Naitonwide Tour in 2006, Snedeker posted six top-10 finishes in 2007 and five in 2008, highlighted by a tie for third at the Masters.

Chip shots: Masters champion Trevor Immelman has not decided what to serve at the upcoming Champions Dinner at Augusta National. He is conducting a contest in his native South Africa to determine the menu…. Compton finally has an equipment deal with Titleist … Good idea: PGA Tour officials moved up the tee 60 yards at the par-5 18th hole Sunday to tempt players to go for the green in two. Fourteen players reached it in two and there were two eagles.

Mark Soltau is a contributing editor to Golf Digest and the editor of TigerWoods.com.