LOS ANGELES — John Merrick never allowed himself to think about winning at Riviera.
Not when he was a kid attending his local PGA Tour event. Not when he was at UCLA and could play the fabled course. And certainly not late Sunday afternoon in a playoff when he faced a daunting 3-iron shot under a row of eucalyptus trees, and his opponent was in the middle of the fairway with a wedge in his hand.
No wonder Merrick was at a loss for words when he won the Northern Trust Open.
“Yeah, you dream," Merrick said, his eyes still glossy. “When you’re alone sometimes, you think about different scenarios of winning tournaments. It was fun. We would always play here at UCLA and have great games out here. To be able to play the tournament was a dream of mine. But to win? I can’t describe it. It’s so much fun."
Merrick hit the perfect shot under the trees on the 18th to escape with par, and he followed with another flawless shot to a skinny section of the 10th green on the second playoff hole to 18 feet. He made another par, and won when Charlie Beljan missed a 5-foot par putt.
It was the second straight year the Northern Trust Open was decided in a playoff on the 10th, a diabolical par 4 at 315 yards that requires skill and strategy, a hole where players are happy to walk off with par. Beljan made bogey twice on the 10th, once in a regulation and then when the tournament was on the line.
He went long and left both times, and in the playoff, his chip didn’t quite reach the green and he took three putts from 70 feet.
“I think you could play here 10,000 times and still not know how to play No. 10," he said. “Eighteen is a great golf hole. I just find it tough that we go to No. 10 to play a playoff hole. I think it’s a great hole, don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking it. But it’s just a tough hole to have a playoff on. We might as well go and put a windmill out there and hit some putts."
Beljan, famous for having an anxiety attack when he won at Disney late last year, holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole, similar to the theatrics provided last year by Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, to close with a 4-under 67 and wind up in a playoff.
Merrick, who grew up in Long Beach, had a number of big breaks on the back nine. None was bigger than his second shot on the par-5 17th headed toward the trees, only to find that he had just enough of a gap to go for the green and make par. He had a 69 and finished 11-under 273.
He also hit the trees with his tee shot on the 15th, and while it left him a hybrid to reach the green, it could have gone anywhere.
In other events on Sunday:
Shin wins Australian Women’s Open
CANBERRA, Australia — South Korea’s Jiyai Shin won the Australian Women’s Golf Open by two shots, finishing with a 1-under 72 to beat world No. 1 Yani Tseng after being tied for the overnight lead with teenage star Lydia Ko. Shin mixed three birdies with two bogeys in a final round battle with Ko and Tseng of Taiwan, and added the Australian title to her two British Opens among 37 professional victories.
Langer wins ACE Group Classic
NAPLES, Fla. — Bernhard Langer shot a final-round 72 and won his second ACE Group Classic title in three years by one stroke. Langer two-putted from 50 feet on the 18th for par to finish at 12-under 204, ahead of Jay Don Blake at TwinEagles Club’s Talon Course.
Fichardt takes Africa Open by two strokes
EAST LONDON, South Africa — Darren Fichardt shot a 71 in the final round of the Africa Open to claim a two-stroke victory over Gergory Bourdy and Jaco Van Zyl at the East London Golf Club. Fichardt and Zyl were tied heading into the final round, but Zyl shot a 73 on Sunday allowing Fichardt to claim the victory.