CHASKA, Minn. — As Y.E. Yang stood at the edge of a bunker skimming the 18th fairway, sizing up a wayward shot, the sun muscled its way through the clouds for just a moment. It might have been an omen, or it might have been simple coincidence.
Yang wiggled free of that trouble, putted for par and ended a spectacular third round at the PGA Championship just before the thunder began rolling in the distance. Score one for the omen. Yang, a 37-year-old Korean in his third season on the PGA Tour, tamed blustery Hazeltine National with a 67 on Saturday to join the Tiger hunt at 6 under par.
The score tied Woods' first-round 67 as the lowest of the tournament. It also added another shining moment to a year full of them. Yang earned his first PGA Tour victory at the Honda Classic last March, then raced into the PGA Championship on the crest of four consecutive top-22 finishes. A year that started with a stroke of good fortune at the Tour's qualifying school now seems to be overflowing with it.
"I believe in luck," Yang said through an interpreter. "It's certainly been a lucky year so far. It all started from the second stage of Q-school; it was the last day, the last putt, and I made a 7-foot uphill putt (to earn his 2009 PGA Tour card). I think the confidence just took a turn after that.
"There was a lot of wind (Saturday), so I was anticipating probably reducing one or two strokes would have been good. But somehow, I ended up getting five. It was good, and hopefully, I'll continue this pace."
When the tournament began, it didn't appear that Yang's luck would hold. He opened with a first-round 73, then racked up four bogeys on the first five holes of his second round.
At that point, he stood 5 over par. But his fortunes turned when he stopped trying to force shots and simply concentrated on making the cut. Over the next 31 holes, Yang recorded only one bogey — at the par-3 13th on Saturday — along with 10 birdies and an eagle. He began Saturday's round tied for ninth and advanced steadily through the afternoon.
A veteran of the South Korean Army who once guarded a naval port, Yong-Eun Yang began hitting balls at a driving range when he was 19. When his required time in the military ended, he went to New Zealand to pursue a golf career. After moving from the Korean Tour to the Japan Tour, where he played from 2002-2006 and won four tournaments, Yang captured the biggest victory of his career.
In 2006, he held off Woods by two strokes to win the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai, China. "I really didn't have much confidence in winning over those big names," said Yang, who also defeated Padraig Harrington, Retief Goosen and Jim Furyk in that event. "I just went for broke, and somehow, I won the tournament."
Yang earned his place on the PGA Tour through qualifying school in 2007 and 2008. Last year, he played 29 tournaments, with his best finish a tie for ninth in the AT&T Pebble Beach.
A one-stroke victory over John Rollins at the Honda Classic stoked Yang's taste for winning, but it also caused him to push too hard. He missed four cuts in his next eight tournaments before regaining his focus and calm to climb to 25th on the PGA Tour money list. Though he downplayed his chances of overcoming Woods to win Sunday, he also doesn't discount them in his year of good luck.
"You never know in the world of sports and the game of golf," Yang said. "Woods has won 70 times now. I've only won once, so it's sort of 70-1 odds. But you might as well go for broke."