Ernst creates alternate ending in Charlotte

By Jason SobelMay 5, 2013, 8:37 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – At one point on Sunday morning, the Wells Fargo Championship leaderboard looked suspiciously like that of a major championship. Phil Mickelson was leading the pack, while battle-tested names such as Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Nick Watney and Robert Karlsson lingered close behind. It was an important upturn in momentum for a tournament which had appeared snake-bitten right from the start.

On a Quail Hollow course afflicted with greens that looked straight out of your favorite daily-fee muni, several top players withdrew prior to the opening round with varying degrees of excuses. As if that weren’t enough, a threatening Sunday afternoon storm forced PGA Tour officials to move up tee times to early morning in hopes of simply completing the event before the weekend was over.

It would be an understatement to say they needed a little luck around here. But there it was – in the form of these elite-level talents contending for a title in what can best be described as typical Open Championship-type conditions. At least the event appeared to be salvaged by the big names, validation for a tournament which has earned a reputation as one of the PGA Tour’s best since its inception a decade ago.

And then … everything changed.

Highlights: Ernst bests big names Quail Hollow

Video: Meet the first-time Tour winner

Wells Fargo Championship: Articles, videos and photos

Westwood, who was dealing with a chest infection throughout the week, bogeyed three of his last seven holes. McIlroy continued his recent epidemic of poor putting. Watney never carded a single birdie. Karlsson never quite got close enough.

Then there was Mickelson, who appeared in control heading to the so-called Green Mile, this course’s treacherous three-hole closing stretch. He bogeyed the 16th and 17th holes, then missed a 20-foot birdie attempt long and left on 18 that would have put him into a playoff.

“I'm pretty bummed out,” he said afterward. “I would have liked to have won this one. I felt like I was in control and I let it slip away there the last few holes, so it was disappointing.”

When the picture cleared through the unleashing skies, it showed little-known 22-year-old Q-School graduate Derek Ernst going to extra holes against European Tour emigrant David Lynn. Ernst and Lynn. It sounds more like an accounting firm than a PGA Tour playoff.

At once apparently analyzing both the struggles of those other players and his chances in the upcoming playoff, Lynn contended, “Anything can happen.” Not to be outdone, Ernst added, “It's anyone's game.”

As it turns out, they were both right.

With a par on the first extra hole, it was Ernst who claimed his first victory in the very definition of both sayings, “Anything can happen” and “It’s anyone’s game.” A graduate of UNLV last year, he was making his ninth career PGA Tour start, ranked 1,207th in the world and had amassed a grand total of 28 FedEx Cup points prior to the week, mostly thanks to a season-best T-47 last week in New Orleans.

In the aftermath of his victory, Ernst’s coolness recalled another old saying: “Act like you’ve been there before.” He was neither overwhelmed by the moment nor did he seem overly excited, almost taking on the attitude of a player who expected to win.

When asked if it was daunting to see those names of the elite players alongside his on the leaderboard, he said, “They're up there every week, so no, not really.” When asked at what point he started thinking about winning, he said, “Never, really, at all. Just kind of if I stuck to my game, then whatever happened, happened. If I win, great. If I got 10th, great. I just stuck with my own game.”

Maybe it was poetic justice, both for Ernst and the tournament.

As the fourth alternate entering the week, he was the beneficiary of those aforementioned top players withdrawing with varying degrees of excuses. Ernst was already on his way to Athens, Ga., on Monday for this week’s Tour event when he got the call that he was in the field.

On a week when seemingly nothing would go right for the good folks who run the Wells Fargo, though, Ernst’s name atop the leaderboard shouldn’t be viewed as another cloud drizzling down on their parade. The tournament’s last six champions have had an average age of 24.2 at the time of their victories, with four of them 23 or younger and 2011 champion Lucas Glover topping out as the old man in the group at 31.

At an event marred by patchy greens and withdrawals and poor weather, it almost makes perfect sense that players such as Mickelson and Westwood and McIlroy would falter in Sunday’s final round. This was the week that never went according to plan. And a young kid named Derek Ernst fit that script perfectly.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

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With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.