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St Andrews: Korean history-maker Y.E. Yang regained the form that made him Asia’s first male Major champion with a five-under-par 67 at the British Open on Thursday.
Yang, an Asian Tour honorary member, enjoyed five birdies in a blemish-free round at the Old Course to post his lowest score at the Open and lie four shots behind Rory McIlroy.
Heading in the year’s third Major, the reigning PGA Championship winner was low in confidence after missing his last three cuts but found a missing link in practice on Wednesday.
“I had a major breakthrough in practice where I found my form after I had lost for a couple of months. I played like I hit it in the driving range. The impact was a bit slow before and I tried to quicken it a bit. Overall, it’s the same kind of swing that I’ve been using last year when I had my success. I think I have found it again,” said a delighted Yang.
He turned in 34 before romping home with three birdies on the 12th, 14th and 18th holes to lie alongside, with amongst others, world number one Tiger Woods. It also put him in position to make his first cut at the Open and more importantly, contend for a second Major.
“I could have played better. I missed two or three birdie chances. It’s one of the toughest Opens here and it was good to have a clean sheet with no bogeys. It’s a good feeling to have going out in the first round,” said Yang, who grew up learning the game by watching Jack Nicklaus’ instructional videos.
He missed the halfway cut in 2005 when the Open was staged at the Home of Golf and also at Cournoustie two years later. Knowing that the greens would be slower than the lightning-fast surfaces on the US Tour, the Korean strongman dug out an old putter for this week’s quest.  
“I went back to my two-ball putter. I had a lot of success with my previous putter which is normally good on fast greens. I changed putter as I knew it would play better on slower greens,” said Yang, who took 30 putts after hitting 17 greens in regulation.
While his eyes are set on the Claret Jug, Yang knows a strong campaign in Scotland will also serve him well ahead of his title defence at the PGA Championship next month.
“I think it’s important,” said Yang. “Half the season has passed and it’s good to play better in the latter half of the year. I’ve not been playing that well and it helps to build some momentum for the PGA and other events. It’s always good to play well in the Major,” said Yang, who was tied eight at the Masters Tournament in April.
Throughout the week, Yang has played the mentor role with practice rounds with the younger Koreans such as current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Noh Seung-yul. He believes it also helps him stay on top of his game.
“It’s easier to have fun out there as we speak the same language. As a big brother, I do feel obliged to take them under my wing and show them the ropes a bit. I also get to learn a few tricks especially playing with the younger kids who hit it so long these days. It kind of gives me a challenge when I get on a golf course, even in a practice round. It goes both ways,” he said.

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