Editor’s note: I’m at Congressional Country Club this week covering the 2011 U.S. Open. Share your U.S. Open thoughts: Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WERE IT NOT FOR Rory McIlroy’s record-setting pace at the U.S. Open, Y.E. Yang might just be the talk of the tournament. The South Korean who slayed Tiger Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship backed up his opening 68 with a hard-earned 69. Yang has posted a 5-under total of 137 through 36 holes, six shots behind the streaking McIlroy and three shots clear of the rest of the field.
With birdies at the par-3 7th and par-4 9th, Yang went out in 34. I caught up with him at the 11th and watched as he pulled his approach shot on the 494-yard par 4 into the deep stuff left of the green. He was unable to salvage a par, but got the shot back at the 12th with a birdie from short range after an exquisite wedge shot. (Playing partners Ryo Ishikawa and Anthony Kim also birdied the 12th to make it three for three.)
Yang bogeyed again after pulling his tee shot at the par-3 13th. The pulls, it seemed, were a trend—at least on the back nine. After making par at the 14th, Yang yanked his tee shot into the tall rough on the long par-4 15th. He laid up, wedged on, and sank the putt for a scrappy par. He followed with his fourth birdie of the round at the par-5 16th and finished with two pars.
It looked like a round during which Yang didn’t have his best game and yet manufactured a good score, which is exactly what you need to do at the U.S. Open. Take away McIlroy and Yang would have a three-shot lead on six players at 2-under, or 140. Instead, Yang will try to keep McIlroy within sight as they tee off in the final pairing on Saturday afternoon.
Yang said he isn’t concerned about McIlroy at the moment, focusing instead on his own game and how to get around a rugged U.S. Open layout.
“I do have a strategy and that’s just to zone out everything around me and just play my game,” he said.
But he also doesn’t believe that McIlroy has an insurmountable lead. Yang cited last year’s Korean Open where he won after trailing by 10 shots.
“I know it’s sort of a different kind of level of golf tournament,” he said, “but still there are many amazing things that happen in golf.”
There’s a long way to go, 36 holes of pressure-filled U.S. Open golf. If McIlroy keeps playing like he did the first two days, no one will catch him. But if he runs into a rough patch, Yang might have the fortitude and game to rise to the top of the leaderboard. After all, he’s already taken down a Tiger.
−The Armchair Golfer
2011 U.S. Open: Rory McIlroy Beats Up ‘Neighborhood Bully’
2011 U.S. Open: A Rock and a Hard Place
2011 U.S. Open TV Schedule and Tournament Notes
2011 U.S. Open: A 16-Year-Old Player and Other Notes
2011 U.S. Open: ‘Big Blue’ Ready to Challenge Field of 156
(Photo: Courtesy of Ballantine’s)