Merrick wins first PGA title at Riviera
LOS ANGELES (AP)
John Merrick hit two clutch shots to win a sudden-death playoff and claim the Northern Trust Open on Sunday for his first PGA Tour victory, in his home city.
On the second playoff hole, Merrick saved par while Charlie Beljan missed a 5-foot par putt to square it.
For Merrick, his breakthrough victory could not have come at a better place. He grew up in Long Beach, attended this event as a kid and went to college at nearby UCLA.
''Growing up as a kid, coming out here, I just wanted to play this tournament,'' Merrick said, his eyes welling with tears.
It was a tough finish for Beljan, famous for having an anxiety attack when he won at Disney late last year. He holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to close with a 4-under 67 and wind up in a playoff.
On the first playoff hole, the 18th, he made a tough 6-foot putt for par. Going to the par-4 10th for the second playoff hole, Beljan drove long and left, and his chip didn't reach the green. He putted his third shot just above the hole, and watched it slide by on the left for a bogey.
The key for Merrick came on the par-5 17th in regulation, when he pulled his second shot from a bunker toward the eucalyptus trees, only to find that he had just enough of a gap to go at the green and escape with par.
More great recoveries followed in the playoffs. He was well to the right of the 18th fairway, and hit a hard punch shot that rolled just over the back of the green and allowed him to get up-and-down for par. On the second hole, he laid up too far to the right - nothing short of a perfectly struck wedge could stay on the green, and he pulled it off, the ball settling 18 feet away. A few inches longer and it would have tumbled into the back bunker.
Merrick, who finished on 11-under 273, moved to No. 4 in the FedEx Cup standings and is virtually assured of qualifying for his first World Golf Championship next month at Doral.
Fredrik Jacobson missed a 4-foot par putt on the 18th hole that would have put the Swede into the playoff. He wound up with a 69 and tied for third with Charl Schwartzel (70) and Bill Haas (73), who also had chances to win.
The final round contained far more drama than anyone imagined at the start of the day, when Haas had a three-shot lead. Six players were separated by one shot going into the final hour at Riviera, and it easily could have been a repeat of the six-man playoff in 2001.
Hunter Mahan was tied for the lead after a 30-foot birdie on the 14th, only to drop four shots on the last four holes. Nothing stung worse than the par-5 17th, where he three-putted from about 30 feet for bogey. He wound up with a 69.
Jacobson was tied for the lead when he missed an 8-foot birdie attempt on the 17th, and then badly pulled a 4-foot par putt on the last hole and missed out on the playoff. The Swede closed with a 69, and bristled when asked about the final hole.
''You want me to touch that one, only that one? I cannot speak about something else?'' he said, before eventually conceding, ''The last putt wasn't very good.''
No one was more disgusted than Schwartzel, the former Masters champion. One shot out of the lead, he missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th, and then three-putted the 17th, missing a 6-footer for birdie. He closed with a 70 and his seventh straight finish in the top five around the world.
Haas faded much sooner. He made five bogeys in a seven-hole stretch in the middle of his round, and his birdie-birdie finish allowed him to tie for third.
''Positives to be taken, but overall, you don't get this many opportunities,'' Haas said. ''A three-shot lead at one of the best tournaments of the year is a great opportunity that I squandered.''