AUGUSTA, Georgia (AP) ― Yang Yong-eun used a hybrid to take down Tiger Woods and win the PGA Championship. Now he’s got even more hybrids in his bag and his sights set on a Masters title.
Fellow countryman Choi Kyung-ju also has some new hybrids of his own, along with a share of third place with Yang after the first round of the Masters.
The two Korean players shot 67s on Thursday, the second straight year both posted 5-under in the first round at Augusta National. But they arrived near the top of the leaderboard in different ways, with Yang bogeying the last two holes and Choi making five birdies in the last six holes.
Both were two shots back of Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros, who shot 65s on a day when Augusta National played soft and scores were low.
“It’s a bit disappointing to finish off two bogeys in a row and go back down to behind the leader, but at the same time there’s still a lot of golf left,” Yang said. “It’s been an overall good experience so far and I hope that it doesn’t end prematurely. I hope it goes along for three more days.”
Yang, whose hybrid shot to the 18th hole led to a closing birdie and a win over Woods at Hazeltine in 2009, uses hybrids instead of his 2 through 5 irons. He finds them easier to hit and perfectly suited for courses where a high ball flight is needed.
Yang Yong-eun and his caddie Michael Bestor discuss options from the rough on the 17th hole during the first round of the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, Thursday. (AFP-Yonhap News)
“I’m not one of the premier hitters on the PGA Tour,” Yang said. “It gives you a lot more variables and options when you try to be more creative on the field and it definitely helps me.”
Choi converted to hybrids only recently, replacing his 4, 5 and 6-irons with them two weeks ago. He said he is still getting used to hitting them but plans to keep them in the bag this week.
“It didn’t really help me that much today because I had a slow start using the hybrids, a par and bogey,” Choi said. “With any new club, any new routine, you pick up, you need at least three weeks to get accustomed to it.”
Choi’s round matched his start last year, when he finished tied for fourth at the Masters, his best showing since he placed third in 2004. He says he feels comfortable at Augusta National, where the tall pines and sheltered greens remind him of the Seoul Country Club, where he won the Korea Open in 1999.
Choi, playing late on Thursday, wasn’t even on the leaderboard until he ran off a string of birdies to finish the day. He was even par after 12 holes before making three straight birdies and adding two more to finish.
That moved him into a tie with Yang, who surged into contention by hitting his 2-iron hybrid 240 yards to the center of the green on the par-5 13th, then watched as it rolled to within tap-in distance for eagle. He birdied 15 and 16, but a drive into the trees on the 17th hole led to a bogey and he finished with a final bogey on 18.
Yang, who finished eighth here last year, said winning the PGA Championship after starting the last round two shots behind Woods gave him the confidence that he can compete with top players and win major championships. Yang has not won on the PGA Tour since, but he did win the China Open and the Korea Open last year.
“So coming into the Masters, or in any other major, it’s no longer a dream for you, and it does wonders for you once you know that it’s something that you can grasp, and it’s a possible sort of objective,” Yang said. “With that thought in mind, you no longer think that it’s unreachable and it’s an extension of your imagination.”
65 Rory McIlroy, Alvaro Quiros
67 Yang Yong-eun, Choi
68 Matt Kuchar, Ricky Barnes
69 Ross Fisher, Brandt
Snedeker, Sergio Garcia,
Charl Schwartzel, Trevor
Immelman, Geoff Ogilvy,
70 Kim Kyung-tae, Sean
O’Hair, Camilo Villegas,
Gregory Havret, Rickie
Fowler, Hiroyuki Fujita,
Retief Goosen, Ryan
Moore, Paul Casey,