The 23-year-old Merritt won when Bland missed his 8-foot birdie try.
“I looked at it from every angle but I was just trying not to over-read it,” Merritt said. “That’s when you get into trouble. It was a double-breaker that just caught the low side and went in. It’s unfortunate Adam missed that one.”
Merritt and Bland finished regulation at 15-under 273 in the soggy, weather-plagued tournament at El Bosque Country Club. Merritt closed with a 3-under 69, while Bland broke the course record with a career-best 8-under 64.
England’s Matthew Richardson (67) was third, two shots back.
“I won a lot in college,” said Merritt, who had 21 wins at Division II Winona State and Division I Boise State. “The difference between college and here is the level of play. Out here it’s unbelievable. Anybody out here can win any week of the year.”
Getting there wasn’t easy for Merritt, who looked like he was headed for a quick week when he started the tournament with four consecutive bogeys on Thursday morning. He finished that round with a 69 and shot 69-68 for a share of the third-round lead.
“I would always get off to slow starts and be 2 over after four or five holes and my college coach would just say that I was spotting them a few strokes,” he said. “You just have to battle back one shot a time and one birdie at a time.”
Merritt earned $117,000 to jump from 146th to 27th on the money list with $134,617. The top 25 at the end of the season will earn 2010 PGA Tour cards.