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Northern Trust Open: Merrick Wins His First at Riviera

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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.

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Chris Hibler is an avid golfer, writer and golf gear junkie. If he's not practicing his game with his kids, he's scouring the GolfWRX classifieds looking for a score.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Troy Vayanos

    Feb 18, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Great to see another first time winner on the US PGA tour. It continues the trend we’ve seen over the last couple of years.

    I wonder who will be the next first time winner?

  2. Lloyd Brandt

    Feb 18, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Great article, better written than the LA TIMES
    or the NEWS…Happy for Merrick’s first win!

  3. Marilyn brandt

    Feb 17, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Your article was accurate and well written. Really appreciated your commens!

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Tour News

5 things we learned on Sunday of the 2018 U.S. Open

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Opportunity knocked for so many golfers, yet it was the 2017 champion who seized the moment when it was his. Brooks Koepka fired his second sub-par round of the week on Sunday to separate from playing partner Dustin Johnson, and enter the pantheon of multiple major champions. He became the 7th player to defend his title, joining old-school legends like Willie Anderson and John McDermott, mid-century icons like Ralph Guldahl and Ben Hogan, and the last man to accomplish the feat, Curtis Strange. With that introduction, let’s move to the main event, the 5 things we learned on Sunday at Shinnecock Hills.

5) The USGA gave golf a chance

True to its word, the USGA pulled out all the stops in the wee hours of Sunday morn. The course set-up team ensured that enough water was distributed to putting surfaces, that worthy shots would not be punished. Hole locations were assessed and confirmed, also ensuring that multiple opportunities for success were available. As a result, 15 golfers turned in scores under par of 70, highlighted by Tommy Fleetwood’s 7-under stunner. Although many fans, writers and players were quick to assault the organizers for losing control of the course, the USGA reminded us that it always had control of the conditions at Shinny, and that its only mistake was to soar too close to the sun.

4) Captain America ran out of gas

If Patrick Reed had been able to sign his card on the 9th tee, when he stood 5-under on the day and 1-over for the tournament, he would be in a playoff with the eventual champion as I type. Unfortunate for this year’s Masters champion was that 10 holes remained. Reed promptly bogeyed the 9th, added 3 more bogeys on the inward half, and summoned just one birdie toward the end. His fourth-place finish was his best in a U.S. Open, but knowing that victory was in the cards will sting for a while.

3) DJ and Finau gave it a run

Where to begin? How about this: DJ had four bogeys on Sunday. He totaled that many on Thursday-Friday combined. He had birdies, too, but couldn’t find the game that possessed him over the opening 36 holes. Oddly enough, this type of experience won’t be a setback for the 2016 champion. After all, he came back from a career-killer in 2015, when he 3-whacked his way out of a playoff with Jordan Spieth at Chambers Bay. As for Milton Pouhau Finau, aka Tony, the Utah native had never before been in the final group on any day of a major professional championship. He acquitted himself well, standing even on the day and 3-over for T2 at the 18th tee. Knowing that he needed eagle for a playoff might have taken the final winds from his sails, and he limped home with double bogey and solo third. Looking ahead to the final August playing of the PGA Championship, Bellerive near St. Louis might just be his type of course.

2) Tom Terrific nearly made his own U.S. Open history

I’ll write this cautiously, as I’m certain I would have intimated in the 1980s and 90s that Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood would have been major champions by now. Tommy Fleetwood ought to win one of these things soon. His record-tying 63 was a short putt away from a record-breaking 62. Eight birdies against a single bogey was the stuff of legend, and if only he had trusted that final putt a bit higher on the break … that’s not fair. Fleetwood right now is the fellow to watch at Carnoustie next month. Bet a few quid or bob or whatever on the Southport native, as he should contend for the title.

1) Brooks cooks up a winning broth

It’s easy to look back and see all the great shots that the defending champion hit over the four days of the 2018 U.S. Open, shots that would win him his second consecutive trophy. Remember that 60-feet bomb to save par on Saturday? Shades of Costantino Rocca. How about the approach shots to within mere feet that earned him 5 birdies on Sunday, including a competition-killer on 16? Koepka was the guy we thought Dustin Johnson would be. Perhaps it was the time off for wrist rehabilitation early this season that gave him the burning desire to win. Out for nearly 4 months, Koepka had plenty of time to ponder what he achieved last June in Wisconsin, and what might lay ahead for him. The begged question is, does the most recent, two-time major winner have the game to acquire more of the game’s cherished trophies?

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

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Wednesday’s Photos from the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills

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GolfWRX is live from the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (par 70; 7,440 yards) in Southhampton, New York. The U.S. Open returns to Shinnecock for the first time since 2004 when Retief Goosen won (he failed to qualify for the 2018 event).

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Phil Mickelson, who has two top-5 finishes at Shinnecock Hills, will seek to fill out his career Grand Slam with a win this week. Also, it’s Tiger Woods’ 10-year anniversary of winning the legendary 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines — that was his most recent major championship victory.

Also in the field are headliners Dustin Johnson (now ranked No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings), Justin Thomas (No. 2), Justin Rose (No. 3), Jon Rahm (No. 4) and Jordan Spieth (No. 5).

Brooks Koepka (No. 9) is the defending champion; he won last year by four shots for his first and only major so far in his career.

Check out our photos from Shinnecock Hills below!

Wednesday’s Galleries

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Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums

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Spotted at Shinnecock: #RVLife, superb staff bags, stellar stampings

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We’re on the famed grounds of Shinnecock Hills Golf Club for the second major of the year. With the U.S. Open returned to such a visually and historically rich venue, it may be a bit tough to focus on equipment.

Nevertheless, we spotted some cool stuff, Tuesday, as the players move ever closer to the second major of th eyear.

Let’s get to the photos.

#RVLife propronent, Jason Day’s putter cover is incredible.

Michael Greller displays an essential caddie skill…

Face of Tiger’s wedge. Do these look like standard TaylorMade MG grooves to you?

Greatest side panel on a bag ever?

Who isn’t happy to see “Woods” on USGA tournament signage?

Shintaro Ban’s unique dot stamping is, well, money.

A look at the Bridgestone U.S. Open staff bag and headcovers.

Kenny Perry: Still gaming R7 irons.

Scott Gregory with some solid wedge stamping.

What is this lead taped and war torn beauty?

All our photos from Tuesday

Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums

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