Maryland: Yang Yong-Eun, who became the only Asian man to win a major title by outdueling Tiger Woods in a final round, put himself in position to claim another major crown on Thursday at the US Open.
The 39-year-old South Korean birdied all four par-3 holes at Congressional Country Club on his way to a three-under par 71 and a share of second place with Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, both three adrift of leader Rory McIlroy.
"It was the first time I've made birdies on all the par-3s in my career, so I'm quite stoked about it," Yang said through a translator. "Hopefully it's a sign I'll be playing quite well on those short holes."
Yang shocked the golf world in the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine when he became the first player to defeat Woods in a major that the then-World No. 1 led after 54 holes, claiming a breakthrough crown for Asian golf.
Yang denied Woods a 15th major title and pierced his aura of invincibility in the 14-time major winner's last major before the eruption of the infamous sex scandal that destroyed his marriage and toppled his endorsement empire.
Woods, now 15th in the world rankings after a 20-month win drought, withdrew from the US Open last week because of nagging left knee injuries that could jeopardize his ever returning to peak form.
"Half of my heart is disappointed," Yang said. "The other half is probably, I wouldn't say thrilled, but I know that my chance is a little bit better because Tiger is not in the field.
"At the same time, it's a loss for golf, really. Tiger just adds another dimension and adds a little bit more quality to any tournament where he participates. I really hope that he comes back quite soon."
In the meantime, Yang knows what it takes to win a major and plans to use that experience to help him hoist another major trophy on Sunday.
"In Korea, they say that it takes a winner to recognize a winner. Definitely it will help," Yang said.
"I'm not sure if it boosts my confidence or helps me under pressure. But I know the feeling and I know that it's a little more of everything in a major than it is in other tournaments, so it's easier for me to cope with that kind of pressure or expectations, whatever you want to call it.
"It definitely has some kind of psychological advantage."
Another boost to Yang's confidence was his par-3 prowess over one of the most difficult course set-ups in golf. He was aided by playing in and just after rain that softened the greens but he took advantage better than any foe.
"I started off feeling very good and I continued to ride that emotion until the last hole," Yang said.
Yang opened with a birdie at the tricky par-3 10th, the only man in his group not to find water off the tee, but sliced his second shot into the water at 11 on his way to a bogey.
He birdied the par-3 13th but a botched chip brought another bogey at 18. Yang then sank 14-foot birdie putts at the par-3 second and par-5 sixth and an eight-footer for birdie at the par-3 seventh.
"It's always easier to be in front than to be chasing, so from that sense, it's a lot more relaxing than building up confidence," Yang said of his lead.
"But at the same time because I had such a good showing in the first round, it also makes me believe that I can do it once more."
Yang knows he needs patience to cope with a punitive US Open set-up.
"The conservative approach, just trying to hit the greens, has been helpful," Yang said. "I try to make pars, less bogeys, and I've been lucky enough to make a few birdies."