John Merrick used his knowledge of Riviera Country Club to win the Northern Trust Open after a play-off with Charlie Beljan (pictured). Merrick was at college near the famous course and played their twice a month while representing his college side. He beat Beljan at the second extra hole to record his first win on the US PGA Tour.
This was a tournament that was not decided until the final putt had been holed. During the final round on Sunday six players got within just one shot of the lead and more established players than Merrick and Beljan faltered towards the end of the tournament.
Fredrik Jacobsen looked the most likely winner when tied for the lead playing the 17th hole. He was in the middle of the fairway on the par five in two shots while Merrick had a more difficult approach to the relatively small green. Both parred the hole but it was Merrick who held his nerve on the final hole to make the play-off.
Jacobsen missed a putt of no more then five feet on the 18th green to miss the play-off by one shot. He is known as the Swedish Seve because of his excellent short game. He putted beautifully all week but hit his worst putt of the tournament at the most crucial point.
Beljan had holed a medium length putt on the final green to set the clubhouse target at 11 under. He won the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic during last year’s Fall Series, famously after suffering panic attacks during his second round and spending some time in hospital ahead of playing on the Saturday.
Merrick said after his win that he loved Riviera. It is an old style course that puts a premium on accuracy over distance. Course management is an important factor on this track. Tee shots must be placed accurately on the fairways to make approach shots to the small greens as straightforward as possible.
The champion at Riviera was recording his first US PGA Tour win. He turned professional in 2004 and has now finished in the top ten 14 times on the main Tour. Merrick proved once again that course experience can be a key factor in playing well in a tournament and realized an ambition that he first had more than ten years ago.