Golf roundup: Rookie as fourth alternate wins Wells Fargo in playoff

Posted Sunday, May. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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One phone call changed his plans. One shot changed a whole lot more for Derek Ernst.

Six days after Ernst received a call that he was in the Wells Fargo Championship as the fourth alternate, the 22-year-old rookie found himself one shot out of the lead and 192 yards away from the flag on the 18th hole, the toughest at Quail Hollow in the cold, wind and rain of a grueling final round.

Ernst choked up on a 6-iron and hit a draw that landed 4 feet from the hole for one of only four birdies on the closing hole Sunday.

“I was trying to hit it as close as I possibly could,” he said.

The birdie gave him a 2-under 70 and tied him with David Lynn of England, who also had a 70. And it turned out to be no fluke. Returning to the 18th in the playoff, as the rain started coming out harder, Ernst hit a 3-iron to about 15 feet left of the flag that set up his stunning victory.

Phil Mickelson didn’t get a chance to join them. He had a one-shot lead with three holes to play until making back-to-back bogeys, missing putts of 6 feet and 10 feet. His 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th narrowly missed, and Mickelson closed with a 73.

“I felt like I was in control, and I let it slip away there the last few holes, so it was disappointing,” Mickelson said.

So ended a strange week at Quail Hollow. The greens were shockingly bad due to weather and agronomical issues, which led to several players dropping out. The sun never really came out all week, and the wind chill Sunday morning made it hard to believe it was the first weekend in May. It felt like February at Pebble Beach.

Turns out there was one final surprise.

Ernst was playing only his ninth PGA Tour event. He was No. 1,207 in the world ranking. He was in a car headed to Athens, Ga., to play a Web.com Tour event when he got the phone call that there was a tee time for him at Quail Hollow.

“This feeling is unbelievable right now,” said Ernst, who wasn’t sure where he was going at the start of the week and can’t believe where he’s going now.

For starters, the victory at Quail Hollow gets him into The Players Championship next week. He qualifies for two World Golf Championships, the PGA Championship, the Tournament of Champions next year at Kapalua and the Masters next April.

Before coming to Charlotte, the rookie swapped out rental cars in Georgia so he wouldn’t have to pay the $1,000 fee for dropping the car in another location. Along with a two-year exemption on tour, the win earned him just over $1.2 million.

Lynn played the final three holes, known as the “Green Mile,” in a combined 4-under par for the week without a single bogey. He chipped in from 70 feet for birdie on the 16th, to go along with a 55-foot chip-in on the 17th on Saturday and a 40-foot chip-in for birdie on the 18th on Friday.

But he picked a bad time for his lone mistake on that stretch.

His tee shot in the playoff was headed for the creek on the left side, though it stayed up in shaggy grass on the bank, the ball well above his feet. Lynn was thinking about laying up until he saw Ernst fire his 3-iron into birdie range. He tried to match him with a hybrid, but the ball didn’t turn over enough and caught the bunker. He blasted out of the wet sand and over the green and chipped to 5 feet. He had that left for bogey, and never had to putt.

“I’ve not been particularly driving it well, so took that tee shot down in the playoff and obviously found a bit of a crooked spot and then didn’t play a great bunker shot either,” Lynn said.

Early in the final round, the leaderboard featured Mickelson and Nick Watney at the top, with McIlroy and Lee Westwood right behind.

When it was over, the winner was Ernst, who grew up in the central valley of California and has cloudy vision out of his right eye from a freak accident as a kid, when a piece of plastic pipe sliced into his eyeball and required 10 stitches.

“I’ve never heard of him,” Lynn said. “He’s a nice player. He said he was 180th on the FedEx Cup list when we were chatting on the way around. He played super. I mean, he could have won it quite easily in regular play. He played the finish really solid, and then he hit two really solid shots in the playoff. So every credit to him. Well done.”

Robert Karlsson, the Swede who now lives in Charlotte, needed a birdie on the last hole to get into the playoff but made bogey for a 72. That left him in a tie for fourth with Westwood, who was tied for the lead until back-to-back bogeys early on the back nine.

McIlroy was one shot behind when he made a double bogey on the 12th hole. He played that hole in 4-over for the week. He had a 73 and tied for 10th.

None of the contenders was more disappointed than Mickelson. He badly wanted to add his name to the list of winners at Quail Hollow, which in its first 10 years already included six major champions. But for the second straight day, the final stretch of holes did him in.

Mickelson took a one-shot lead with a chip that settled inches away for a tap-in birdie on the 14th, and he was poised to widen his lead on the par-5 15th. His second shot came up just short and into the bunker, but Mickelson could only blast that out to 12 feet and he left the birdie putt short. That proved costly.

He missed a 6-foot par putt on the 16th – at the point, Ernst and Lynn had finished at 8-under 280 – and three-putted from 65 feet away off the green on the 17th for bogey.

“I’m pretty bummed out,” Mickelson said. “I thought that this was one I had in control. If I could have gotten that bunker shot up-and-down on 15, I would have had a two-shot lead heading into those last three holes, which I know are difficult holes, so it would have been nice to have that.

“There is just no excuse,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary or difficult. I should have made par.”

Even though hardly anyone was paying attention to Ernst – not with so many big names in the hunt over the last two hours – he might have played the best golf.

Ernst hit a beautiful wedge from about 100 yards into 4 feet to escape with par on the 12th. He missed birdie putts from 5 feet on the 14th after nearly driving the green, and he missed another birdie putt from 6 feet on the 16th. But he made the birdie that mattered, on the 18th in regulation, to set up his big win.

LPGA

Cristie Kerr made a short par putt on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff with Suzann Pettersen on Sunday to win the Kingsmill Championship for the third time in Williamsburg, Va.

The victory was the 16th of Kerr’s career, and her third in five career playoffs.

Kerr shot a 2-under 69, and Pettersen had a 67 to finish at 12-under 272 on the River Course.

Kerr nearly won it on the first extra hole. Her approach to No. 18 stopped about 6 feet away from the hole while Pettersen’s approach came up short of the green. But Pettersen chipped it close, and Kerr’s putt slid past the hole.

On the second hole, Pettersen hit her approach just off the back of the green, and Kerr’s stopped nearly hole high about 15 feet away. After Pettersen mis-hit her chip, leaving it well short, Kerr rolled her putt to 18 inches, forcing Pettersen to make hers, and her try missed badly.

It was the second year in the row the tournament ended in a playoff.

Pettersen, who gained her first career victory here in 2007 with a three-hole playoff victory over Jee Young Lee, fell to 5-3 in her career in playoffs. She won in a playoff two weeks ago in Hawaii.

The finish turned into a two-player battle after looking as if it might get wild.

Ariya Jutanugarn, the 17-year-old Thai player who led after the first two rounds, made five birdies on the back nine in a 66 to surge into a tie for third with Ilhee Lee, who closed with a career-best 67.

Angela Stanford also had a share of third until the final hole, when she lipped out a short par putt for her first bogey in a closing 69. She shared fifth place with Stacy Lewis, who closed with a 70.

At one point, Pettersen led by a shot, with Kerr, Jutanugarn, Lee and Stanford all one back.

Kerr led most of the day, but when she missed the 14th green to the right, Pettersen hit her approach close. Kerr’s sidehill chip left her a long two-putt, and Pettersen’s birdie put her in front at -11.

Just as they walked off the green, Lee’s third consecutive birdie moved her to 10 under, and Jutanugarn’s fifth birdie in six holes also got her to minus 10. Moments later, Angela Stanford rolled in an eagle putt on the par-5 15th, creating a four-way tie for second with just a few holes to play.

The former champions wasted no time separating themselves again.

Kerr had a chance to regain a share of the lead at No. 15, but her makeable eagle putt slid just by on the left, and she and Pettersen both had short birdie putts, giving the leaders some breathing room.

Kerr, who made several tester putts to save par during her round, pulled even on the par-4 16th, rolling in another from inside 10 feet for birdie after Pettersen’s longer birdie attempt missed.

Both parred in, with Pettersen’s long birdie try at No. 18 missing right by half an inch, and Kerr having to make yet another tester, this one from about 6 feet, to force the playoff.

Briefly

•  European Tour: Brett Rumford became the first Australian in 41 years to win back-to-back European Tour titles with Sunday’s victory at the China Open in Tianjin. Rumford shot a final-round 68 to win by four shots with a 16-under 272 total. Finland’s Mikko Ilonen shot a 71 to finish second at 12 under, with Victor Dubuisson (68) another shot back in third.

Sixteen-year-old Chinese amateur Dou Ze-cheng posted a final-round 73 to finish tied for a share of 33rd place with defending champion Branden Grace of South Africa (74) at 287.

•  Web.com Tour: Former Bulldogs star Brendon Todd won the Stadion Classic when rain washed out the fourth round at the University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Ga. The 2007 graduate became the third consecutive Bulldogs player to win the event. Russell Henley won in 2011 while still in school, and Hudson Swafford took the 2012 title.

Todd shot a 2-under 69 on Saturday to reach 8-under 205, a stroke ahead of playing partner Tim Wilkinson and two in front of Nick Rousey.

•  Asian Tour: Bernd Wiesberger shot a 5-under 67 in the final round to win the Indonesian Masters by a stroke over British Open champion Ernie Els in Jakarta.

The 27-year-old Austrian finished with an overall 15-under 273, with Els in second place after a 4-under 68 for 274 at the Asian Tour event.

Wiesberger opened with a birdie but bogeyed the fourth hole before making two more birdies on Nos. 8 and 9.

Both Wiesberger and Els had an eagle on the 12th.

Japan’s Daisuke Kataoka (70) was third with a 275 at the Royale Jakarta Golf Club.

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