(Reuters) - Rookie Derek Ernst crowned a fairy tale week by parring the first hole of a sudden-death playoff on Sunday to beat Briton David Lynn and win the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Ernst, 22, who sank a four-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to tie for the lead, won his first PGA Tour title with a tap-in par at the par-four 18th after Lynn, runner-up at last year’s PGA Championship, got into trouble off the tee in sudden death.
“It feels incredible,” Ernst said in a greenside TV interview. “It’s just unbelievable. This feeling is incredible. My heart’s beating a million miles an hour.”
Entering the field as the fourth alternate, Ernst won his maiden title in his eighth start on the tour this year. The Californian’s previous best finish was a tie for 41st at the 2012 Frys.com Open.
Lynn hit his tee shot on the playoff hole into deep rough on the banks of a creek on the left, put his second shot into a greenside bunker and then overshot the green. His chip ran eight feet past the cup, allowing the American to win with par.
Ernst won with steady ball-striking, a smooth putting stroke and some brilliant play at the 18th, the hardest hole of the week. He had totaled $28,255 in PGA Tour earnings this year before pocketing a winner’s prize of more than $1 million.
Phil Mickelson led by a stroke going into the last three holes but bogeyed 16 and 17 to fall one shot short of joining the playoff. The big left-hander finished third at seven-under 281 after a 73.
Ernst and Lynn both shot final rounds of two-under-par 70 to tie at eight-under-par 280 on a wet, chilly day that brought golfers out at 6:45 a.m. in hopes of beating the stormy weather forecast for later in the day.
With some players pulling out before the event due to damaged greens at Quail Hollow after unseasonably cold weather, Ernst got his Wells Fargo invite and headed to Charlotte instead of to a Web.com Tour event in Georgia.
Besides the immediate balm to his bank account, the victory brought Ernst a wealth of opportunities. It qualified him for next week’s Players Championship, two World Golf Championships, the PGA Championship, next year’s Tournament of Champions and the Masters.
He had entered the tournament ranked 1,207th in the world.
His path to victory was paved in part by Mickelson’s troubles in the closing holes.
Mickelson, who double-bogeyed the par-five 15th and bogeyed 17 in the third round, held a one-shot lead entering the last three holes, known as the Green Mile, before stumbling again.
“I’m pretty bummed out. I thought this was one I had in control. Then I bogeyed 16 and 17, there’s just no excuse,” said a frustrated Mickelson, who has finished fifth or better four times at Quail Hollow but has yet to win.
For the 39-year-old Lynn, it was his second top-10 finish of the season, following a tie for fourth at the Honda Classic.
Two strokes off the pace at six-under were Englishman Lee Westwood (72) and Robert Karlsson of Sweden (72).
At five under par were Americans Kevin Streelman, Ryan Moore, Bo Van Pelt and Kim Stanley, one shot better than a group of six that included world number two Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and England’s Ross Fisher.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York,; Editing by Gene Cherry