John Merrick was a young face in the crowd at Riviera for so many years, dreaming of one day playing the fabled course on the PGA Tour.
On Sunday, he did better than that. He won on it.
Merrick hit two clutch shots that led to two pars in a sudden-death playoff and won the Northern Trust Open on Sunday when Charlie Beljan missed a 5-foot par putt on the second extra hole.
Merrick, who closed with a 2-under 69, became the ninth player to make the former Los Angeles Open his first PGA Tour victory.
It could not have come at a better place. Merrick grew up in Long Beach, attended this event as a kid and went to school down the street at UCLA.
“I can’t put this into words,” he said off the 10th green, his eyes welling with tears. “Growing up as a kid, coming out here, I just wanted to play this tournament.”
It was a tough finish for Beljan, famous for having an anxiety attack when he won at Disney late last year. He holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to close with a 4-under 67 and wind up in a playoff.
He had to make a tough 6-foot putt for par on No. 18 on the first playoff hole. Going to the par-4 10th, 315 yards of sheer terror, Beljan drove long and left, and his chip didn’t reach the green. He putted his third shot just above the hole, and watched it slide by on the left for a bogey.
Merrick, who finished on 11-under 273, moved to No. 4 in the FedEx Cup standings and is virtually assured of qualifying for his first World Golf Championship next month at Doral. Also, he will play in his first Masters in early April.
Fredrik Jacobson missed a 4-foot par putt on the 18th hole that would have put the Swede in a playoff. He wound up with a 69 and tied for third with Charl Schwartzel (70) and Bill Haas (73), who also had chances to win at different stages in their rounds.
Bernhard Langer shot a final-round 72 and coasted to his second ACE Group Classic title in three years in Naples, Fla. Langer, who shot a 62 in the first round, two-putted from 50 feet on the 18th for a one-stroke victory over Jay Don Blake at TwinEagles Club’s Talon Course. … South Korea’s Jiyai Shin won the Australian Women’s Open by two shots over world No. 1 Yani Tseng in Canberra, while New Zealand teenager Lydia Ko opened the final round with a double bogey and fell back. … Top seed Rory McIlroy will play Shane Lowry of Ireland, while No. 2 Tiger Woods will face Charles Howell III in the first round of the World Match Play Championship on Wednesday at Dove Mountain, near Tucson, Ariz. No. 3 Luke Donald opens against Marcel Siem of Germany, and No. 4 Louis Oosthuizen will play Richie Ramsay of Scotland.
TRACKING LOCALS ON THE PGA TOUR
LAST week: Northern Trust Open, through Sunday, Riviera Country Club, Los Angeles.
IN THE FIELD: Puyallup’s Ryan Moore and Tacoma’s Troy Kelly.
Moore’s fourth-round score: 3-over-par 74.
POSITION: Moore (2-under 282) finished in a six-way tie for 27th, nine strokes behind John Merrick, who won in a playoff over Charlie Beljan. Moore earned $45,870. Kelly (10-over 152) missed the cut by eight strokes Friday.
RECAP: The Cascade Christian High School graduate started strong for his final round, making birdies at the par-5 first hole and again at the par-4 third hole when his approach shot from 144 yards stopped 7 feet from the hole. Moore then parred the next six holes to finish his front nine at 2-under 33. The former UNLV star struggled on the back nine, bogeying five of the next six holes. On the 10th hole, his drive landed in the rough, and his second shot landed in a bunker. On the par-5 11th, he two-putted from less than 4 feet for a bogey 6.
NEXT: Moore is scheduled to play in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Wednesday-Sunday, at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz.News Tribune staff