Scott Fowler

James Hahn provided final-round drama at Quail Hollow

James Hahn hoists the Wells Fargo Championship trophy after defeating Roberto Castro in a one-hole playoff.
James Hahn hoists the Wells Fargo Championship trophy after defeating Roberto Castro in a one-hole playoff. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

A former Nordstrom shoe salesman won the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship Sunday, but only after his playoff opponent hit his golf ball first into the water and then into a pair of men's loafers.

It was a sunny and strange Mother's Day at Quail Hollow Club, where James Hahn and Roberto Castro faced off in a one-hole playoff that Hahn won with a par, completing a very unlikely week for a man who had missed eight consecutive cuts and admitted that he had started to contemplate "doing other things" for a living during that dry spell.

The playoff duel featured little name recognition but provided a lot more drama than this tournament did in 2015, when Rory McIlroy ran away with the title by seven strokes and pronounced the final round "sort of boring" afterward.

It wasn't boring this time. Hahn -- originally from South Korea but raised mostly in California since the age of 2 -- quit golf in frustration before his senior year as a scholarship golfer at Cal-Berkeley. He was all over the place after that -- trying real estate, day-trading, advertising and eventually working at a Nordstrom department store selling women's shoes.

A penalty, a dance

But golf sang its siren song again and Hahn decided to try it one last time, gradually working his way up from the minor leagues while trying to scrape up the money to pay his caddie each week. Now in his fourth year on the PGA Tour, he has tried to keep his integrity throughout the journey.

In 2015, in his Masters debut, Hahn called a one-stroke penalty on himself for moving the ball accidentally. No one else saw it, but Hahn did. He missed the cut by exactly that one stroke.

Now 34, Hahn did win once before on the PGA Tour. That was in 2015 and also in a playoff. "I love playoffs," Hahn said.

Hahn has good reason to love playoffs. Not only is he 2-0 in them on the PGA Tour, but he also has a Web.com playoff win and a Canadian Tour playoff win.

But he may be best known among casual golf fans for the excellent "Gangnam Style" dance he did in 2013 after holing a birdie putt. Check it out on YouTube: more than 370,000 others already have.

Castro, meanwhile, is a former Georgia Tech golfer who has never won on the Tour. Playing in the final group, he made a clutch 6-foot putt for par to force the playoff. Minutes earlier, Hahn had missed from 6 feet and bogeyed the hole, so both men finished at 9-under par.

But in the playoff, Castro first knocked a 5-wood into the creek that borders the 18th hole at Quail Hollow and then hit a spectator in the head who was sitting near the green with his next shot. His ball then bounced into a pair of men's loafers.

"A lot of dreams lost here on 18th at Quail," Castro sighed later, adding he felt "terrible" about hitting the fan.

Castro somehow got out of all that with only a bogey, putting the pressure on Hahn to make a 4-foot par putt to win.

Hahn did, then went to hug his wife and 14-month-old daughter, who had flown in from their home in Arizona for Mother's Day.

Mickelson, McIlroy make a charge

Just below Hahn and Castro there was a lot of leader-board movement. Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson went off a couple of hours ahead of the leaders, posted matching 66s and ended up at 7-under par.

Third-round leader Rickie Fowler had exactly the sort of day he didn't want, shooting a final-round 74. He dropped into the star-studded group that tied for fourth, joining McIlroy and Mickelson. Mickelson added 2016 to his long list of "what-ifs" at Wells Fargo as the "8" he scored on Saturday at No. 18 ultimately did him in.

"One bad hole yesterday kind of cost me," said Mickelson, who has now finished in the top dozen on 11 occasions at Quail Hollow but has never won. McIlroy, who set numerous tournament records last year while scorching the field for a seven-shot win, said he "just left myself too much to do after the first three days."

Hahn began Sunday trailing Rickie Fowler by two strokes. With his victory, he moved from No. 120 to No. 26 in the FedExCup standings.

Hahn did just enough. He rose steadily to the top Sunday, helped by a 51-foot putt for eagle on No. 7. Then in the playoff, he hit "one of the best drives of my life" right after Castro had knocked his into the water and played that out made a par that was anything but routine given that more than $500,000 rode on it -- that was the difference between first- and second-place money.

Hahn won $1.314 million for the victory, which is a whole lot of Nordstrom paychecks. He's long past that job now. But the shoe certainly fit on Sunday for Hahn, who provided a tournament that needed some drama with a great closing kick.

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