Yang in familiar territory in a major championship

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BETHESDA, Md. -- With Rory McIlroy doing his best Tiger Woods impersonation this week at the 111th U.S. Open, the last golfer he needs walking beside him is Y.E. Yang.

Yang is the only golfer in the world to ever stare down Woods in the final pairing of a major championship and come out winning, at the 2009 PGA Championship.

Interestingly enough, the South Korean trailed Woods by six strokes at the midpoint of that major before rallying, the same deficit he will face Saturday at Congressional Country Club.

So Yang doesn't need to thump his chest and offer any crazy bulletin-board material such as "I'll give you 80 reasons why I think I'm going to beat McIlroy to win the U.S. Open." He knows how quickly the landscape can change with a simple switcheroo on moving day.

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At the PGA at Hazeltine, Yang shot 67 to Woods' 71 on Saturday to turn a foreboding gap into a manageable two-shot deficit and then won their head-to-head Sunday showdown.

"I didn't know that I was six strokes behind, so thanks for reminding me," Yang said through an interpreter after his second-round 69 got him to 5 under. "I'll probably remind myself tomorrow morning again about that. It's definitely a pleasant memory, so I think it'll only do me more help than harm if I remember that going into tomorrow's game."

Yang was not oblivious to the circumstances before he teed off in Friday's afternoon wave. McIlroy posted the low round for the second straight day and was 10 shots ahead of the Korean at one point before posting double bogey on the 18th hole.

But Yang believed the absurdity of the deficit made it easier on him.

"I just saw that it was just a daunting task," he said. "If it was a stroke or two strokes or three strokes ahead, then maybe it would have added a lot more pressure for me to try and get close to him or at least not lengthen or widen the gap.

"But it being such a big gap in the first place, I just didn't really mind what Rory ended up with. I didn't even know his score when I teed off. So I just played my game. It actually enabled me to concentrate on my own game, so secretly I'm very happy that I had another under-par round."

As impressive as McIlroy's play has been so far, he can't be as intimidating a prospect to chase down as Woods carrying a two-shot lead and a perfect 14-0 record when leading headed into the final round of a major. But Yang blocked out all the distractions around him and hung in there all day against Woods at Hazeltine before flipping the match with an eagle on the 14th hole that ultimately spurred him to a three-shot victory.

He hopes to do the same against McIlroy.

"I do have a strategy and that's just to zone out everything around me and just play my game," Yang said. "I'm just going to try and block out everybody around me and every aspect around me and just imagine as if I'm just going to play ... I'm just having a practice round of my own. Hopefully that'll help out."

With McIlroy playing nearly flawless golf, the gap certainly seems imposing. But Yang and McIlroy both remember what happened in the final round at the Masters Tournament when McIlroy coughed up a four-shot lead with a final-round 80.

And Yang has an even more motivational memory to harken back on if he needs inspiration.

"Last year actually during the Korea Open back home, I played against Seung Noh," Yang said. "He was 10 strokes ahead of me, and I won the Korea Open. So anything can happen in golf, really. I know it's sort of a different kind of level of golf tournament, but still, there are many amazing things that happen in golf."

Scott Michaux is the sports columnist and golf writer for The Augusta Chronicle and augusta.com.

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