Derek Ernst had made just two of seven cuts, ranking 196th in FedExCup points, prior to his win on Sunday.
By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
Where did that come from? Derek Ernst, PGA TOUR champion.
I assume, since you are reading this, you are more than just a casual golfer. You are an avid fan of the game and the PGA TOUR. You follow tournaments week by week, you can carry on an intelligent conversation concerning FedExCup points and strokes gained-putting. So, were you familiar with Ernst’s body of work a week ago?
The UNLV graduate had made just two of seven cuts, had earned $28,255 and was ranked 196th in FedExCup points. As a rookie, he was the fourth alternate just to get into the Wells Fargo Championship. If you were familiar with Ernst, then you are more than a fan, you are a fanatic.
How did it happen? A combination of badly timed bogeys out of the leaders and one incredible birdie on the 72nd hole. From 192 yards, Ernst hit his approach to within 4 feet and made the putt. The 18th hole was the hardest of the week, playing more than a half stroke over par. Ernst played the difficult final three-hole stretch at Quail Hollow in 1 under for the tournament.
I thought his success actually began on Saturday, when Ernst had a very comfortable pairing. Instead of the media spotlight with Phil Mickelson, Ernst was able to shoot par in the third round with the easygoing Lucas Glover. He remained under the radar until that birdie on the final hole.
Chipping: When a player wins a tournament, good things have happened over the course of the week. Fortunate bounces, long putts, chip-ins. David Lynn certainly looked like a winner to me. He chipped in for birdie on each of the final three holes during the tournament, including the 16th hole in the final round. Lynn played the “Green Mile” in 4 under. Sometimes it’s not just how well you play -- it’s how good someone else performs.
Green Mile: Mickelson walked the “Green Mile” leaving a money trail from 16 to 18. He played that 1,175-yard three-hole stretch in 3 over for the tournament. Part of the problem was his errant drives. He was 26 of 56 in hitting fairways, ranking T53 for the tournament.
Fairway accuracy has become a devalued stat on the PGA TOUR but Phil’s misses were so wide, they cost him shots. A wonderful week of putting was almost enough to offset the driver. Mickelson led the tournament in strokes gained-putting at an impressive 10.135 for the week.
You rarely see Mickelson fail to close out a tournament. He was 22 of 37 when holding or sharing a 54-hole lead and is ranked 24th in final-round scoring average this year at 69.75. If he shoots that average, Mickelson wins the tournament.
Roller coaster: It takes awhile to total Kyle Stanley’s scorecard. There are lots of circles and squares to decipher. He finished T6 after posting a third-place finish in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last week. Stanley made 14 birdies and an eagle this week but also carded 11 bogeys. He had five birdies, an eagle and three bogeys in the final round. Kyle is such a long driver of the golf ball -- he averages more than 295 yards -- there are always going to be some inconsistencies but I can see Stanley winning in the near future.
Inconsistent: Rory McIlroy is hitting plenty of good shots, he’s just mixing in too many bad strokes. He led the tournament in greens in regulation but also had a double bogey in each round this weekend. You rarely find a “6” on any scorecard of note and McIlroy had four of them this week. The putter was definitely balky. He had 97 putts in the last three rounds, including 33 in the final round. You can argue the greens at Quail Hollow were not conducive to consistent putting this week and there is some truth to that reasoning, however, I suspect I will see Rory spending some time on his putting stroke before THE PLAYERS Championship begins.
Greens: The greens this week were stressed and slower than usual. That always leads to some interesting putting numbers. Quail Hollow personnel did a wonderful job of getting the course playable under adverse conditions but with slower greens, you sometimes see more aggressive putters performing well. There is less break on slower greens, so putts can be charged. Mickelson led the tournament in strokes gained-putting followed by Rod Pampling, Sergio Garcia, Lynn and Luke List. For the season, those players are ranked: 42nd, 185th, 26th, 56th and 167th.
Trending upward: Lee Westwood finished T4 and shot par or better in every round. An inconsistent short game has always held the Englishman back but this year Westwood is seventh in scrambling after ranking 189th last season. He has posted four top 10s in nine tournaments, including the last three in a row. I would say Westwood is trending in the right direction heading into THE PLAYERS.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here