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.
So ended a strange week at Quail Hollow. The greens were shockingly bad due to 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 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.
At Williamsburg, Va., Cristie Kerr made a short par putt on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff with Suzann Pettersen to win the Kingsmill Championship for the third time.
The victory was the 16th of Kerr's career, and her third in five career playoffs. She also won at the River Course in 2005 and 2009.
Kerr shot a 2-under 69, and Pettersen had a 67 to finish at 12-under 272 on the River Course.
On the second hole, Pettersen hit her approach just off the back of the green, and Kerr's stopped nearly hole high about 15 feet away. After Pettersen mis-hit her chip, leaving it well short, Kerr rolled her putt to 18 inches, forcing Pettersen to make hers, and her try missed badly.
Pettersen, the 2007 winner in a playoff with Jee Young Lee, won in a playoff two weeks ago in Hawaii.
Ariya Jutanugarn, the 17-year-old Thai player who led after the first two rounds, made five birdies on the back nine in a 66 to surge into a tie for third with Ilhee Lee, who closed with a career-best 67.
At The Woodlands, Texas, Esteban Toledo celebrated Cinco de Mayo by becoming the first Mexican winner in Champions Tour history, beating Mike Goodes with a par on the third hole of a playoff in the Insperity Championship.
The 50-year-old Toledo, making his ninth start on the 50-and-over tour, eagled the opening hole and finished with a 5-under 67 to match Goodes and Gene Sauers at 6-under 210 at The Woodlands Country Club.
Goodes shot a 72, and Sauers — eliminated on the second playoff hole — had a 74.
Cinco de Mayo marks the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, when Mexican troops defeated a French army of Napoleon III, then considered the mightiest military in the world.
Toledo, seven strokes behind Sauers entering the round, earned $270,000 for his second victory in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event. He also won the Web.com Tour's 2005 Lake Erie Charity Classic.
At Athens, Ga., former Bulldogs star Brendon Todd won the Web.com Tour's Stadion Classic when rain washed out the fourth round at the University of Georgia Golf Course.
The 2007 graduate became the third consecutive Bulldogs player to win the event. Russell Henley won in 2011 while still in school, and Hudson Swafford took the 2012 title.
Todd shot a 2-under 69 on Saturday to reach 8-under 205, a stroke ahead of Tim Wilkinson. Todd, also the 2008 Utah Championship winner, earned $108,000 to jump from 37th to fourth on the money list with $143,528.
At Tianjin, China, Brett Rumford won the China Open by four strokes to become the first Australian in 41 years to win consecutive European Tour titles.
The Ballantine's Championship winner last week in South Korea, Rumford shot a 4-under 68 to finish at 16-under 272 at Binhai Lakes. Australians Jack Newton and Graham Marsh also won consecutive events in 1972, the first year of the tour. Finland's Mikko Ilonen was second after a 71.
At Jakarta, Indonesia, Austria's Bernd Wiesberger won the Asian Tour's Indonesian Masters, closing with a 5-under 67 for a one-stroke victory over South African star Ernie Els.
Wiesberger finished at 15-under 273 at the Royale Jakarta. Els shot a 68.