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Merrick Gets First PGA Tour Title in Hometown
John Merrick parred the second playoff hole - the short but diabolical par-4 10th hole at famed Riviera Country Club - to beat Charlie Beljan and win the Northern Trust Open in Pacific Palisades, Calif. The victory was the first of Merrick's career.
Merrick, a 30-year-old from Long Beach and graduate of UCLA, closed with a 2-under 69 to finish at 11-under 273. Merrick knows Riviera well, having attended PGA Tour events as a youngster and often playing there as a member of the Bruin's golf team.
Beljan matched Merrick's 11-under total after sinking a dramatic 18-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th, forcing the extra holes.
The two went back to the 18th tee. Merrick pushed his drive to the right, while Beljan, who famously won for the first time last November in the Disney while suffering from panic attacks, split the 18th fairway with his tee shot. Merrick then hit a low cut approach through the green, while Beljan, from 160 yards with a wedge, tugged his second shot slightly into the fringe.
Both players got up and down for par and then headed to the 10th, a mere 300-yard par-4 designed by legendary architect George Thomas that has beguiled the best players in the world for decades. Merrick hit a long iron off the tee to 90 yards out, while Beljan took driver and pulled his tee shot into the left-hand rough.
Merrick placed a delicate 60-degree wedge to 19 feet, while Beljan opted to punch out to the right-front of the green, 70 feet from the cup. From there, he putted to five feet, right of the hole. Merrick's birdie try stopped a foot short, and he tapped in for par. From five feet, Beljan's matching par attempt slide past the hole on the left, giving Merrick his first title since joining the PGA Tour in 2007.
"I can't even put (the win) into words," a stunned Merrick said at greenside. "Coming here as a youngster and playing here . . . I can't even put it into words." A teary-eyed Merrick was then greeted by his wife and two young children.
Several players had a chance to join Merrick and Beljan in the playoff. Perhaps the most painful omission was Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson, who missed a three-foot par putt on the 72nd hole for a bogey, a 69 and a 10-under total that tied him with Charl Schwartzel (70) and defending champion Bill Haas.
After firing a 7-under 64 Saturday, Haas entered the final round with a three-stroke lead. But the 30-year-old son of veteran touring pro Jay Haas could only muster a 2-over 73 on Sunday.
Yet another stroke back were Josh Teater (69) and Webb Simpson (71). After going out in 1-under 34, Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, was able to manage only eight pars and a bogey coming home.
Thirty-six-hole leader Sang-Moon Bae of South Korea rallied from a 76 Saturday with a 4-under 67 to take a share of eighth at 276 with Hunter Mahan. Mahan, another Southern California native, soared up the leaderboard off seven birdies - and two bogeys - through 15 holes. But he bogeyed the final two holes for a 69.
The win, his first in 169 starts on the PGA Tour and worth $1.188 million, gave Merrick 500 FedEx Cup points, moving him to fourth in the season-long standings and assuring him a spot in April's Masters.
For all the scores, visit http://www.pgatour.com/tournaments/northern-trust-open/leaderboard.html.