CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A week like no other at Quail Hollow held one final surprise Sunday when 22-year-old rookie Derek Ernst birdied the 18th hole to force a playoff, and then won the Wells Fargo Championship on the first extra hole against David Lynn of England.
Ernst was playing only his ninth PGA Tour event. He was the fourth alternate at the start of the week. He was No. 1,207 in the world ranking. None of that mattered when he choked up on a 6-iron from 192 yards and drilled his shot into 4 feet. He made one of only four birdies on the 18th in the final round, and this was the most important. It gave him a 2-under 70 and put him in a playoff with Lynn, who also shot 70.
The shot was no fluke. On the 18th hole in the playoff, as the cold rain started coming down harder, Ernst hit a 3-iron left of the flag to 15 feet. Lynn went from the bank of a creek to the bunker to the rough behind the green, and Ernst was able to win with a par.
Phil Mickelson, who had a one-shot lead with three holes to play, made bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes, and he narrowly missed a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th that would have allowed him to join the playoff. He had a 73 and finished third.
“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.
And to think he started this week in a rental car driving from New Orleans to Georgia to play a Web.com Tour event. He received a call Monday afternoon that enough players had pulled out — several stayed away because of the ragged greens — that he was in the Wells Fargo Championship.
The rest of the week was a blur.
The greens were choppy all week, surprising for a club that prides itself on the most pristine conditions. The sun didn’t shine all week, and it was colder on the first weekend of May in Charlotte than it was at Pebble Beach in February.
Early in the final round, the leaderboard featured Mickelson and Nick Watney at the top, with Rory 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.
Ernst won just over $1.2 million and most important to him was the two-year exemption that comes with winning.
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.
“Yeah, 12 was the turning point,” McIlroy said. “Didn’t play at all well there this week. Some positives are I hit the ball very well from tee to green for the most part of the week, and looking forward to The Players (Championship) next week.”