Northern Trust Open: Merrick Wins His First at Riviera
For the second year in a row, it took extra holes to determine the winner in a thrilling finish under crystal-clear blue skies and ideal conditions at the famed Riviera Country Club. When it was all said and done, local Long Beach native son, John Merrick, emerged the victor of the Northern Trust Open on the second playoff hole against Charlie Beljan. Merrick secured his first PGA Tour win in a gritty and exciting performance with a 2-under 69 on the final day and a four-day total of 273.
Merrick out-dueled a star-studded field on the final day, including his playing partner, Frederick Jacobson, who missed a critical six-foot putt for par on No. 18, failing to join the playoff. Just moments before in the group ahead, Charlie Beljan came to a dramatic finish by sinking a clutch, must-make 15-foot birdie putt on the famed hole, bringing his total to 11-under alongside Merrick and forcing the playoff.
Merrick held on to the lead throughout the back nine, at times shared with various players, in a performance featuring an array of dazzling and nerve-wracking holes. Merrick made birdie on No. 10 from just off the green and followed that with another birdie on the par-5 No. 11 for a share of the lead. Merrick took the lead alone briefly, but a bogey on No. 13 just as Hunter Mahan sunk a huge putt on No. 14 had the two share the lead for a moment. Merrick went on to sink a huge 20-foot putt to save par from the sand on par-3 No. 14, holding a tenuous grip on his share of the lead. Mahan then wilted while adrenaline looked to be creeping in on Merrick as he leaked his drive on No. 15. But, he staved off the nerves with a majestic 250-yard 3-wood to hold on for par followed by another par on No. 16.
On the par-5 No. 17, tied and playing alongside a surging Jacobson, Merrick hooked out of a fairway bunker and looked stymied behind a group of trees. In a pivotal moment, fortune smiled on Merrick and he had a clean look at the pin, chipped to within 20 feet and ended up saving par. Jacobson subsequently missed what was a makeable birdie putt, leaving the two tied going to the famed No. 18. On the finishing hole, both men drove the left side of the fairway. Jacobson hit his approach to just off of the left of the green and failed to get up and down for a devastating bogey. Merrick ended up pin high off the right side of the green, chose putter and calmly made a clutch up-and-down to keep his share of the lead and the date with Beljan in the playoff.
On the first playoff hole, Beljan missed out on a golden opportunity to win the match with a huge drive leaving him 160 yards in. Merrick had blocked his drive into the right rough but executed a beautiful 192-yard shot which ran past the pin and through the green giving Merrick an up-and-down from just off the back of the green for par. Beljan hit his approach left of the green, chipped long and left himself with a knee-knocking six-foot par putt that he willed in to force the second playoff hole.
On the second playoff hole, the short par-4 No. 10, Merrick laid up conservatively with an iron off the tee while Beljan over-cooked an ill-advised driver to about 50 yards left of the green which Feherty and McCord combined to call “a conundrum inside an enigma wrapped up in a brown paper bag.” Merrick stuck a wedge to about 20-feet and coolly two-putted for par. Meanwhile, Beljian had to manufacture an attempt at par, but he missed a tricky five-foot downhill par putt wide right handing Merrick his first tour victory.
Entering the day ranked No. 241 in the world, Merrick improved his world ranking, qualified for the Masters and earned his Tour card for the next two years with the win. Merrick displayed his familiarity with Riviera as it is essentially a home course for the UCLA golf team where Merrick was a star on the Bruin golf team from 2000-2004. Merrick is a member of Virginia Golf Club along with fellow Tour pros John Mallinger and youngster Patrick Cantlay.
There was a logjam through much of the final day with the likes of Webb Simpson, Hunter Mahan, Charl Schwartzl and Bill Hass all in the mix at times. Haas looked as though he would cruise to the win when he started the day with a three-stroke lead but didn’t take advantage on the front and then stumbled throughout the back nine with a bogey-filled round en route to a disappointing tied-third-place finish. Through the first three rounds, Haas looked as at home on Rivera as the famous tale of Humphrey Bogart perched under the Sycamore tree on No. 12 hole. But, Haas ended up more “Bogey” than Bogart on the final day.
The Northern Trust Open saw a lot of big names miss the cut including the likes of Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell and Aaron Baddley. Fan favorite Fred Couples played solidly at the start and made it to the weekend, but was never much of a factor from there finishing 2 over and tied in 46th place.