Travelers Championship

TPC River Highlands

The Loop

You probably didn't notice: Even with a rough Sunday, Derek Ernst had the second-best finish of his PGA Tour career

March 16, 2015

The 2015 Valspar Championship will be remembered as the tournament where Jordan Spieth picked up an inevitable second PGA Tour title. But it also included two unlikely breakthroughs.

If you watched Sunday's telecast, you're probably familiar with Sean O'Hair's story. Once a rising star, O'Hair had fallen on hard times and all the way down to No. 401 in the Official World Golf Ranking with just one top 10 (a T-10 to be exact) in his previous 65 PGA Tour events.

O'Hair, 32, lipped out a birdie putt on the second playoff hole that could have earned him total job security for the next two years. Still, his T-2 brought him up to No. 188 and it should get him into a lot more tournaments than having to rely on special exemptions like the one he received last week for being a past champion at Innisbrook.

Another guy who is running out of playing privileges had a chance for plenty of final-round TV time as well, but had a tough day. Derek Ernst trailed only Spieth and Ryan Moore after 54 holes, but he bogeyed No. 2 and doubled No. 7 to tumble off the leader board.

Ernst wound up falling 14 spots with a 75 to finish T-17, but like with O'Hair, there is a silver lining. "Feels good to get the competitive juices going again," Ernst said on Saturday evening.

For the man with one of the oddest PGA Tour resumes ever, this was actually just the second top-25 finish in 62 career events. The other, of course, was his shocking victory at the 2013 Wells Fargo Championship, when he won as the 1,207th-ranked player in the world, giving him an exemption on the tour through this season.

But after seven missed cuts in 11 starts in 2014-15 -- with his best finish being a T-54 at the McGladrey Classic -- a 67-70-69 start on a stout Copperhead Course gives Ernst hope that better golf is ahead. So does the fact that the UNLV product doesn't turn 25 until May.

"Golf is so mental and this week I just flipped the switch and started believing in myself and had some positive affirmations I've been telling myself," Ernst said.