John Merrick tops Charlie Beljan in L.A. playoff
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- John Merrick couldn't get the words out, but he got the putts down.
Merrick's par on the second extra hole, the tricky, little 10th at Riviera, gave him a sudden-death victory Sunday over Charlie Beljan in the Northern Trust Open.
"I can't even tell you what this means," Merrick said of his first PGA Tour victory. "Growing up, I just wanted to play in this tournament . . . "
He paused, wiped at his eyes, and said, "I can't get the words out."
Merrick, with a 2-under-par 69, and Beljan (67) each finished with 11-under scores of 273, forcing a playoff in this tournament for a second straight year and the fifth time in the last 11 years.
Each parred the 18th, the first extra hole. Then at 10, only 315 yards, but with huge bunkers slashing across the fairway and in front of the green, a hole that has beguiled golfers from Ben Hogan to Phil Mickelson, Beljan drove left into the trees. It took two shots to get to the green, and he missed a 5-foot par putt.
Merrick began the final round three shots behind defending champ Bill Haas, who also won last year on the second extra hole, the 10th. But Haas, who didn't have a bogey in either the second or third rounds, came apart in the fourth with six bogeys in his first 13 holes.
Only birdies at 17 and 18 enabled Haas to shoot 73 and finish in a three-way tie at 10-under 274 with Charl Schwartzel (70), the 2011 Masters champion, and the Swede Fredrik Jacobson, who shot 69 but bogeyed the 72nd hole to miss the playoff.
"I didn't think I could shoot over par," Haas said, "and then all of a sudden to be 4 over for the day, just kind of hit me. Every shot I hit was uncomfortable."
Merrick, starting his seventh year on Tour, said past experience of squandering leads helped this time. "Before, I got ahead of myself," he said. "This time I thought, 'Be tough and patient.' I hit some good shots on thee back nine.
"I heard people yelling, 'Go Long Beach, Go Bruins.' I've played a lot of rounds here while at UCLA. To get a win in your hometown tournament is a dream come true."
On his 71st hole, the 590-yard par-5 17th, Merrick's second shot came to rest behind two trees. He had an opening, and found the green, confiding later, "That was the luckiest break I've ever gotten."
Merrick had a two-shot lead on the back nine but Beljan caught him with birdies at 14 and 18.
"You think about winning with four or five holes left," Merrick said, "and your heart starts racing. I was able to slow myself down."