CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Derek Ernst didn’t come out of nowhere to win the Wells Fargo Championship. He actually was driving a rental car toward Athens, Ga., the fourth alternate who figured he might as well spend the week playing in the minor leagues.
He wound up a playoff winner at Quail Hollow with a game that wins anywhere.
It’s easy to get caught up in the elements that make his victory Sunday so amazing.
Ernst is a 22-year-old rookie who was finishing up at UNLV at this time a year ago. He was No. 1,207 in the world ranking, having played only eight PGA Tour events, one of them last year when he earned a spot through Monday qualifying. He had made only two cuts this year, which led to being the No. 4 alternate.
Players like Ernst don’t typically get into a tournament like the Wells Fargo Championship. But there was so much talk about the shabby shape of the greens — and they were worse than players were told — that several players decided not to play.
Ernst got the phone call Monday that he was in at Quail Hollow, so he drove on to Athens to return his rental car — a $1,000 drop-off fee sounded like a lot of money at the time — and pick up another one and head to Charlotte.
The rest of the week went by so quickly. The opening round of 67. Staying in the mix over the next two days in cold weather. Overlooked on Sunday in the cold rain, mainly because of the names at the top of the leaderboard — Phil Mickelson, Nick Watney, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood among them.
All of them had their issues on the back nine, none worse than Mickelson, who had a one-shot lead until bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes that cost him. Ernst not only played bogey-free on the back nine and shot 33, he saved his best for the final hole.
One shot behind David Lynn of England, who was in the same group, Ernst choked down on a 6-iron from 192 yards and hit a draw that dropped 4 feet from the cup for a birdie. It was one of only four birdies on the 18th hole in the final round, and this gave him a 2-under 70 and a spot in the playoff with Lynn, who also had a 70.
“I was trying to hit it as close as I possibly could,” Ernst said.
Under the circumstances, his shot in the playoff was just as good, even if Ernst concedes to being a little lucky. Lynn was in trouble off the tee, on the bank of a creek with the ball well above his feet. Ernst hit a 3-iron that settled 15 feet left of the cup.
“I pulled it a little bit,” he said with a grin.
No matter. Lynn was thinking of laying up and trying to make par from short of the green until he saw Ernst’s shot. That forced him to take a hybrid, and he put that in the right bunker. His shot out of the wet sand sailed over the green and nearly went into the creek. By then, the tournament effectively was over. Lynn chipped on to 5 feet and never had to putt for bogey after Ernst’s birdie putt caught the lip and he tapped in.
“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.
No need to get another rental car for the drive to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Along with a two-year exemption on tour, Ernst won just over $1.2 million.
“I’m flying,” he said.
Kerr wins Kingsmill playoff
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Cristie Kerr made a short par putt on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff with Suzann Pettersen to win the Kingsmill Championship for the third time.
The victory was the 16th of Kerr’s career, and her third in five career playoffs. She also won at the River Course in 2005 and 2009.
Kerr shot a 2-under 69, and Pettersen had a 67 to finish at 12-under 272 on the River Course.
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.
Pettersen, the 2007 winner in a playoff with Jee Young Lee, won in a playoff two weeks ago in Hawaii.
Toledo edges Goodes at Insperity
THE WOODLANDS, Texas — Esteban Toledo celebrated Cinco de Mayo by becoming the first Mexican winner in Champions Tour history, beating Mike Goodes with a par on the third hole of a playoff in the Insperity Championship.
The 50-year-old Toledo, making his ninth start on the 50-and-over tour, eagled the opening hole and finished with a 5-under 67 to match Goodes and Gene Sauers at 6-under 210 at The Woodlands Country Club.
Goodes shot a 72, and Sauers — eliminated on the second playoff hole — had a 74.
Cinco de Mayo marks the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, when Mexican troops defeated a French army of Napoleon III, then considered the mightiest military in the world.
Todd takes Stadion Classic
ATHENS, Ga. — Former Bulldogs star Brendon Todd won the Web.com Tour’s Stadion Classic when rain washed out the fourth round at the University of Georgia Golf Course.
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 Tim Wilkinson. Todd, also the 2008 Utah Championship winner, earned $108,000 to jump from 37th to fourth on the money list with $143,528.
TIANJIN, China (AP) — Brett Rumford won the China Open by four strokes to become the first Australian in 41 years to win consecutive European Tour titles.
The Ballantine’s Championship winner last week in South Korea, Rumford shot a 4-under 68 to finish at 16-under 272 at Binhai Lakes. Australians Jack Newton and Graham Marsh also won consecutive events in 1972, the first year of the tour. Finland’s Mikko Ilonen was second after a 71.
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger won the Asian Tour’s Indonesian Masters, closing with a 5-under 67 for a one-stroke victory over South African star Ernie Els.
Wiesberger finished at 15-under 273 at the Royale Jakarta. Els shot a 68.