By Alex Myers
When Derek Ernst won the Wells Fargo Championship last year, it was a true underdog story. Not only was he ranked 1,207th in the world, but he needed three players to withdraw -- probably due to Quail Hollow's problems with its greens at the time -- just to make it into the field as the fourth alternate.
Yet Ernst, 22 and in just his ninth PGA Tour start, held off players like Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy in regulation before topping European Tour veteran David Lynn in a playoff. Fresh off a sterling collegiate career at UNLV, Ernst vaulted to 123rd in the world rankings and seemed on the fast track to a successful PGA Tour career. Not so fast.
Eight months later at Kapalua, Ernst continued a trend of mediocre play, finishing nine shots behind anyone else in the field and posting the worst score of the day in each of the first three rounds.
Sadly for Ernst, his 30th-place finish (out of 30) at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and $61,000 payday are the best he's done since his magical win last May. By far.
Excluding that improbable victory and his performance at Kapalua, Ernst hasn't finished in the top 40 once in 24 PGA Tour starts. That's 0 for 24 with 16 missed cuts. And he hasn't made more than $20,000 other than a check for $47,250 he made at the Bridgestone Invitational, another limited-field event without a cut.
In 2013, Ernst only ranked 122nd in greens in regulation and 138th in strokes gained putting. That deadly combination placed him 176th (out of 180) in scoring average. How did he win then? Did he just get really, really lucky? The more you examine the numbers, the more Ernst's win stands out as a statistical outlier.
On a positive note, Ernst's unlikely tour title earned him a spot in this year's Masters and it gave him some job security since it came with a two-year exemption. Also good? Ernst is still only 23, meaning there's plenty of time to prove his win was just an upset and not a total fluke.