Y.E. Yang conceded after Saturday’s round that the U.S. Open had become, essentially, a competition for second place.
Yang’s assessment, it turns out, was as accurate as one of Rory McIlroy’s approach shots. With McIlroy showing no signs of relinquishing his firm grasp on the tournament, Sunday’s most intriguing battle at Congressional Country Club was for runner-up.
The honor eventually went to Jason Day, but not before some late drama.
Day fired a 3-under-par 68 to catch and then overtake Yang with three holes left to play, injecting a few late thrills into an event that’s going to be remembered mostly for McIlroy’s dominance.
“I’m not going to go home and cry because I got whooped,” Day said of his finish.
Although Day ended up eight shots behind McIlroy’s blistering score, it shouldn’t detract from what was an otherwise superb four days in Bethesda for the 23-year-old Australian. Playing in his first U.S. Open, he completed the final 45 holes without a bogey, while amassing nine birdies over the final two days — an effort that underscores what is quickly turning into a breakout season for him.
Day finished tied for second two months ago at the Masters and now owns seven top-10 finishes in 12 events. Day’s 8-under total at Congressional, in fact, would have been good enough to win or earn a playoff in all but six U.S. Opens since 1948.
“You can’t beat a guy that’s gone out and played as well as he has this week,” Day said, referring to McIlroy. “He just didn’t miss a beat, played phenomenal golf. [But] I played really, really solid golf over the weekend, which I really wanted to do, and I’m very, very happy to finish second.”
At the turn, it appeared second place was Yang’s to lose. But the South Korean, who was paired with McIlroy, came unraveled on the par-4 No. 15 around the same time Day began to surge.
Yang found a bunker off the tee, then recovered with a masterfully placed third shot. But he missed a putt from about 10 feet and had to settle for bogey.
Day, meantime, birdied the par-5 No. 16 for the second consecutive day to move to 8 under and seize second place from Yang.
Day parred Nos. 17 and 18, while Yang hit into the trees twice on No. 18 for his second bogey over the final four holes. After scoring three birdies on the front nine, Yang bogeyed three holes on the back.
“Overall, there could be so many regrets, the two bogeys in the last few holes,” Yang said through an interpreter. “I had a lot of opportunities where I could have made birdies. But at the same time I’ve missed the last two cuts in the last two U.S. Opens, and this is my third U.S. Open. So coming in third, I mean, there [are] a lot more positives than there are negatives.”
Yang, as a result of his late struggles, finished in a four-way tie for third place with Kevin Chappell, Robert Garrigus and Lee Westwood at 6 under for the tournament. Yang’s even-par 71 on Sunday was his worst score of the week.
“I thought [the winning score] would be minus-5 to minus-8,” Yang added. “So I tried to target my own game towards that number. I achieved that. Unfortunately there was some guy who shot the hell out of it for a whole week.”