Almost on cue, Riviera served up another dramatic finish Sunday.
Only this time, there were more gasps than cheers.
Having learned to always lay up on the diabolical 10th hole, John Merrick two-putted for par on the second playoff hole, then watched as Charlie Beljan missed a 4-foot putt that gave Merrick his first PGA Tour title at the Northern Trust Open.
It was a Hollywood ending for a California kid, who was playing just a few miles from his hometown.
“I can’t even put it into words right now,” an emotional Merrick said afterward.
Merrick, who used to attend this tournament as a collegian at UCLA, became a winner in his 169th career start on Tour. But making this homecoming victory even more special: It sent him to the Masters.
On a wild final day that saw myriad lead changes and a host of world-class players in pursuit, only to stall late, it was Merrick who looked as cool as ever.
In the playoff, Beljan took the early advantage after hammering his tee shot down the middle on 18, leaving only a pitching wedge for his approach. But from 160 yards, he pulled his second shot left, into a tricky spot near the collar. He needed to sink a 6-foot par putt just to extend the playoff.
On the second extra hole, the 10th, Merrick laid up with an iron, then played a well-judged wedge shot to 20 feet.
Beljan, however, took a more aggressive route. His tee shot with a driver sailed left, leaving him a dicey flop shot over a bunker. He instead played it to the left edge of the green, and his 4-foot par putt caught the left edge and spun out.
That short miss spoiled what had been a thrilling charge from Beljan, who rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole in regulation to force a playoff.
Fredrik Jacobson (69) also had a chance to join the playoff at 11-under 273, but yanked his 5-foot par putt on the last hole and finished one back. Also falling short was Charl Schwartzel (70), who missed two putts inside 10 feet on the last three holes, and Bill Haas, the third-round leader, whose closing 73 left him one shot back.
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