Merrick plays it safe in first win

With Hollywood in the backdrop, John Merrick wrote a story on Sunday that was almost too good to be true for the Southern California native.

Merick, a former UCLA standout who played Riviera plenty of times growing up, held off Charlie Beljan on the second hole of a playoff to win the Northern Trust Open.

It is Merrick’s first career PGA Tour title. Here are Five Things to take away from the week:

1. Masteful Merrick

John Merrick made the difficult choice — twice — and it paid off in the form of an invitation to the Masters in April.

Playing the par-4 10th in regulation, Merrick was the only member of his group to lay up, but he picked up a birdie with a nice putt from just off the green to the left of the hole.

He chose to do the same thing again in the playoff with Charlie Beljan, laying up well back and using a wedge to get his second shot within 15 feet of the hole. Two putts later, he had won the first Tour title of his career.

Merrick made his move on Sunday at Nos. 10 and 11, tying Bill Haas for the lead with a birdie at the 10th and then taking the outright with another one at the 11th.

Merrick’s 11-under total included two eagles (both in the third round), 17 birdies and 10 bogeys. He birdied (or eagled) the par-5 11th hole each day.

After missing his first two cuts of the season, Merrick finished tied for 57th at the Waste Management Open and tied for 16th at Pebble Beach. He moves to No. 4 in the FedEx Cup standings with the victory.

2. Beljan waffles

It’s no secret that Charlie Beljan wears his emotions on his sleeve.

His aggressive nature might have cost him his second career PGA Tour title. After a par save on the first playoff hole, Beljan did not play it safe on the par-4 10th hole, choosing to take driver at the drivable par 4. He even got a cheer from the crowd after he seemed to waffle on whether to play it safe.

He overcooked his tee ball to the left and was left to scramble to try and save par. Which he didn’t, costing him a spot in the Masters.

Beljan tied for the best round of the day with a 4-under 67 — his second 67 of the tournament.

3. Missed opportunities

At first glance, Charl Schwartzel’s final-round scorecard isn’t all that exciting: a bogey (on No. 2) and two birdies (Nos. 5 and 10). The three birdies he left on the course is what likely will eat away at the 2011 Masters champion.

Schwartzel attacked the par-3 16th despite a tough pin placement on the far right, netting himself a 6-foot birdie attempt. He missed that low and went to the par-5 17th one shot back.

After a long drive on the 17th, Schwartzel put an iron to just in front of the green and his eagle attempt settled about 5 feet behind the hole. He couldn’t convert on that short putt and headed to the 18th still in need of that elusive birdie.

Again, another big drive at No. 18 put him in great position. He hit his second shot to about 18 feet right of the hole, but left his birdie putt wide right and had to settle for a share of third place in his first appearance at Riviera.

4. Haas fades

Bill Haas was riding a 40-hole bogey-free streak heading into Sunday’s final round, but that ended at the par-4 second hole and he’d add five more bogeys in the middle of his round to fall out of contention. He’d birdie Nos. 17 and 18 to finish at 10 over, but fired a 2-over 73 in defense of his Northern Trust Open title.

Haas led by three shots after a birdie at No. 3, but bogeys at Nos. 7 and 8 cut that to one at the turn. Merrick tied Haas for the lead with a birdie at the par-4 10th and never relinquished it.

Haas had three bogeys — all in the first round — heading into the final 18 holes.

5. Short shots

— Sang-Moon Bae, who held a share of the 18-hole lead, and Greg Chalmers tied Beljan for round of the day. Both fired 4-under 67.

— Luke Donald took a triple-bogey 7 at the par-4 12th hole to drop out of contention in his PGA Tour season debut. Donald finished tied for 16th, dropping 11 places, with a final-round, 4-over 75.

— The field was a cumulative 61 over on Sunday.