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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.

Mickelson chipped too hard on the 16th and missed a 6-foot par putt to slip into a three-way tie for the lead — Ernst and Lynn had just finished at 8-under 280 — and then he three-putted from about 65 feet away just off the green, missing a 10-foot par putt.

“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.”

Ernst was an unknown for many on tour, including the guy he beat in a playoff. He made it through Q-school on his first try, made the cut in his first event of the year in Hawaii, and then missed his next five cuts on the PGA Tour until he tied for 47th in New Orleans last week.

Even though hardly anyone was paying attention — 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, and he avoided a three-putt on the next hole with a 7-foot par putt. 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, that set up his big win.

Through it all, Ernst never considered winning.

“I didn’t think about what I had to do or what I didn’t do,” he said. “I just thought about each shot. What is the next one? How am I going to get this next one in the hole? So that was big.”