Ernst prevails in Wells Fargo playoff

By Doug FergusonMay 5, 2013, 6:55 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – 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.


Highlights: Ernst gets first Tour win at Quail Hollow

Video: Mickelson stumble down stretch at Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo Championship: Articles, videos and photos


So ended a strange week at Quail Hollow. The greens were shockingly bad because of 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 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, 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 a point when Ernst and Lynn had finished at 8-under 280 – and three-putted from 65 feet away 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.

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Still missing the PLAYOFF part of the playoffs

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 18, 2018, 5:10 pm

The PGA Tour huddled for 3 ½ years, consulted with the geniuses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and ran countless simulations for its strokes-based system.

It still didn’t get it right.

In a move that surely will alienate many of its hardcore fans, the Tour on Tuesday unveiled its new format for the Tour Championship. Beginning next year, players will begin the week at East Lake with a predetermined total based on their position on the points list, the leader starting at 10 under par.

In an age of points and projections, the Tour’s desire for simplicity is understandable – RIP, Steve Sands’ whiteboard – but its new-look finale violates the spirit of competitive sports.

There are no head starts in sports. That’s the beauty of them.  

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots don’t open the Super Bowl with a 7-0 lead.

Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors don’t start the best-of-7 NBA Finals with a one-game advantage.

Lindsey Vonn doesn’t begin the Olympics with a three-second lead.

Roger Federer doesn’t automatically take a 1-0 lead on his Wimbledon opponent.  

But the PGA Tour has essentially created a handicapped tournament for its grand finale, for the 30 best players of the season.

What a missed opportunity.


Current FedExCup standings

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No system is perfect, but this is exactly the kind of contrived idea that emerges when the Tour continually tries to conflate season-long performance with a season-ending “playoffs.”

It’s messy and unnecessary.

The most common criticism of the current FedExCup model is that the best players are rarely rewarded for season-long success. (Example: Brooks Koepka, a two-time major winner this season, starts this week as the No. 7 seed.) That’s taken care of with the new Wyndham Rewards Top 10, which will pay out $10 million in bonus money, including $2 million to the top points-earner, after the regular-season finale at the Wyndham Championship.

Perfect.

End it there.

Celebrate Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas or Bryson DeChambeau for their season-long excellence.

Then start the playoffs – a real playoff – where everyone starts at zero and where past performance guarantees nothing but a spot in the elimination tournament.

Only those who make the cut in the 100- or 125-man Northern Trust advance to the 70-player BMW Championship. If Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth play poorly and miss out, well, tough luck. Play better. Survive and advance.

At the BMW Championship, it’ll be a fight to finish inside the top 30 on the leaderboard, and it’s easy to imagine a 5-for-2 playoff at the conclusion of play for those attempting to crack the Tour Championship field.

Once the top 30 is finalized, there’s no need for a staggered stroke start.

Play a three-round stroke-play qualifier (Wednesday-Friday), then cut to the low 16 players and have a knockout match-play bracket over the weekend for $15 million.

Sure, some of the stars will have been cut in the previous two playoff events.

Others will fail to make the top 16 at East Lake.

But even if the final is whittled down to Kyle Stanley vs. Patton Kizzire, how cool would it be to watch two players go head to head for the richest prize in all of sports?

At least they’d have earned their spot in the championship.

At least the event would have stayed true to what it really is – a well-run tournament at the end of a long season that is a glorified cash grab.

The Tour wanted to create a unique end to the season, but that shouldn’t mean turning its big-money finale into a net tournament.

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Spieth's schedule violation 'resolved' and a 'win' for fans

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 4:15 pm

ATLANTA – For the first time in his career Jordan Spieth failed to qualify for this week’s Tour Championship, an unexpected turn that also found him on the wrong side of a new PGA Tour regulation.

Under the circuit’s strength-of-field requirement, which began last season, a player must add an event to their schedule that they haven’t played the last four years if they didn’t play at least 25 events in the previous or current seasons.

Since he didn’t qualify for the finale, Spieth will finish the season with 24 events (including the Ryder Cup) and under the policy he “shall be subject to a major penalty,” which is a fine of at least $20,000 or even suspension.


Current FedExCup standings

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What that means specifically for Spieth remains unclear, but on Tuesday at East Lake Andy Pazder, the Tour’s chief of operations, said the matter has been addressed.

“I have talked to Jordan and we’ve resolved it,” Pazder said. “We have come to a resolution. I’m not going to be able to share the details of that, [but] I will say the result is something that you will see next season. It’s resolved in a way that’s going to be a win for our tournaments, our fans and golf in general.”

Pazder’s response suggests that Spieth will likely add at least one new event to his schedule next year.

Spieth was not the only player to violate the policy the season. Ian Poulter only played 20 events in 2018, the same as he played last season, and he did not add a new event to his schedule. Pazder said that after the Englishman won the Houston Open in April he justifiably shifted his focus to qualifying for the European Ryder Cup team and played five events this summer in Europe, which kept him from reaching his 25-event minimum or adding an new event.

“We’ve come to a resolution on how he is going to address that,” Pazder said.

Spieth and Poulter are the first players to violate the policy.

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How the new Tour Championship format would look this year and last

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 18, 2018, 2:39 pm

The PGA Tour announced on Tuesday plans to change the FedExCup format for the 2018-19 season. Part of that plan is to assign pre-tournament strokes to players in the Tour Championship based on their playoff standings in the first two events. 

Per GolfChannel.com senior writer Rex Hoggard:

The No. 1 player on the post-season points list will begin the finale at 10 under par. The next four players will start at 8 under through 5 under, respectively, while Nos. 6-10 will begin the tournament at 4 under par with the total regressing by one stroke every five players with those ranked 26th through 30thstarting at even par. The winner at East Lake will also claim the FedExCup.

Here's a look at where players would start this year's Tour Championship under the new format (through the three events already contested):

1 Bryson DeChambeau 10 under
2 Justin Rose 8 under
3 Tony Finau 7 under
4 Dustin Johnson 6 under
5 Justin Thomas 5 under
T-6 Keegan Bradley 4 under
T-6 Brooks Koepka 4 under
T-6 Bubba Watson 4 under
T-6 Billy Horschel 4 under
T-6 Cameron Smith 4 under
T-11 Webb Simpson 3 under
T-11 Jason Day 3 under
T-11 Francesco Molinari 3 under
T-11 Phil Mickelson 3 under
T-11 Patrick Reed 3 under
T-16 Patrick Cantlay 2 under
T-16 Rory McIlroy 2 under
T-16 Xander Schauffele 2 under
T-16 Tommy Fleetwood 2 under
T-16 Tiger Woods 2 under
T-21 Aaron Wise 1 under
T-21 Kevin Na 1 under
T-21 Rickie Fowler 1 under
T-21 Jon Rahm 1 under
T-21 Kyle Stanley 1 under
T-26 Paul Casey Even par
T-26 Hideki Matsuyama Even par
T-26 Gary Woodland Even par
T-26 Marc Leishman Even par
T-26 Patton Kizzire Even par

Here's a look at how last year's Tour Championship played out, with Xander Schauffele winning the event and Justin Thomas claiming the overall FedExCup title, and how it would have looked, all things equal, under the new system (in which Jordan Spieth began the finale as the No. 1 seed and would have started the event at 10 under par). In the new system, Thomas would have been the FedExCup champion.

2017 Tour Championship Player Final score   2017 in new system Player Final score
1 Xander Schauffele -12   1 Justin Thomas  -19
2 Justin Thomas  -11    2 Jordan Spieth  -17 
T-3 Russell Henley  -10    3 Paul Casey  -13 
T-3 Kevin Kisner  -10    T-4 Jon Rahm  -12 
5 Paul Casey  -9    T-4 Brooks Koepka  -12 
6 Brooks Koepka  -8    T-4 Kevin Kisner  -12 
T-7 Tony Finau  -7    T-4 Xander Schauffele   -12
T-7 Jon Rahm  -7    T-8 Justin Rose  -10 
T-7 Jordan Spieth  -7    T-8 Russell Henley  -10 
T-10 Sergio Garcia  -6    T-10 Dustin Johnson  -9 
T-10 Matt Kuchar  -6    T-10 Matt Kuchar  -9 
T-10 Justin Rose  -6    12 Tony Finau  -8 
T-13 Patrick Reed  -5    T-13 Daniel Berger  -7 
T-13 Webb Simpson  -5    T-13 Webb Simpson  -7 
15 Daniel Berger  -4    T-13 Sergio Garcia  -7 
16 Pat Perez  -3    T-16 Pat Perez  -6 
T-17 Jason Day  -2    T-16 Patrick Reed -6 
T-17 Dustin Johnson  -2    18 Marc Leishman  -3
19 Gary Woodland  -1     T-19 Kyle Stanley  -1 
T-20 Patrick Cantlay    T-19 Gary Woodland  -1 
T-20 Jason Dufner    T-21 Jason Day 
T-20 Kyle Stanley  E   T-21 Adam Hadwin 
23 Adam Hadwin  +1   T-21 Patrick Cantlay 
T-24 Brian Harman  +3    T-21 Jason Dufner 
T-24 Marc Leishman  +3    25 Brian Harman  +1 
T-26 Rickie Fowler +6    T-26 Rickie Fowler  +2 
T-26 Hideki Matsuyama  +6    T-26 Hideki Matsuyama  +2 
T-28 Kevin Chappell  +9    28 Charley Hoffman  +6 
T-28 Charley Hoffman  +9    29 Kevin Chappell  +7 
30 Jnonattan Vegas  +10    30 Jhonattan Vegas  +8 
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Stock Watch: Up or down for FedExCup changes?

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 18, 2018, 2:20 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Angela Stanford (+9%): In this era of youthful dominance, Justin Rose and now Stanford offer reminders that sometimes the long, winding journey is even more rewarding. It took Rose 20 years to reach world No. 1; for Stanford, she needed 76 major starts (and 15 years after a major playoff loss) before she finally became a Grand Slam winner, at age 40.

Sang-Moon Bae (+6%): The next time you complain about losing your game after a few weeks away, remember that the two-time Tour winner shelved his clubs for TWO YEARS to fulfill his South Korean military obligations and then regained his card. That’s a heckuva achievement.

FedExCup changes (+5%): Though the Tour Championship shouldn’t count as an official victory – come on, the playoffs leader has a TEN-SHOT head start over No. 26! – the strokes-based system is no doubt easier to follow than the various points fluctuations. RIP, Steve Sands’ whiteboard.

Tyler McCumber (+3%): Maybe he’s on his way to challenging his famous father, who won 10 times on the PGA Tour. A three-time winner this season in Canada, McCumber clinched Mackenzie Tour Player of the Year honors and will be one to watch next year on the Web.

Matthew Wolff (+2%): The reigning NCAA Freshman of the Year is now 2-for-2 this season, winning at both Pebble Beach and Olympia Fields with a 67.2 scoring average. He’s a primetime player.  


FALLING

Amy Olson (-1%): To win a major most need to have their heart broken at least once … but that ugly 72nd-hole double bogey could linger for longer than she probably hoped.  

Lexi (-2%): As heartwarming as it was to watch Stanford snap her major-less drought, keep in mind that the best U.S. player – the 23-year-old Thompson – next April will be five years removed from her lone LPGA major title.

Web final (-3%): Twenty-five Tour cards will be on the line this week at the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship, but here’s guessing you won’t even notice – for some reason, it conflicts with the big tour’s season finale. Why couldn’t this have been played last week, when the Tour was dark and the Web could get some much-needed exposure?

Player of the Year debate (-5%): As much as the Tour might promote otherwise during its big-money conclusion, Justin Thomas said it best on Twitter: Majors trump all. It’s Brooks Koepka’s trophy this year.  

Repairing damage (-6%): Golf’s governing bodies are confident that the new rules (out Jan. 1!) will speed up pace of play, but it’s hard to see how that’s possible when they now will allow players to tap down spike marks on the green. With $1 million and major titles on the line, you don’t think guys will spend an extra minute or two gardening?