John Merrick is the winner of the 2013 Northern Trust Open, clinching the title after the tournament went to a playoff finish on No. 10 at historic Riviera for the second straight year. It was the first win for Merrick, who's had several close calls during his PGA Tour career. He is the second UCLA player (Corey Pavin the other) and first Los Angeles-area born player to win the event (formerly the LA Open). He held the lead for much of the final day, but Charlie Beljan pushed him to a second playoff hole before he could secure the win.
The victory was closed out on the iconic 10th hole, a drivable par-4 where Bill Haas beat out Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley last year. Merrick did not go for the green, steadily placing his drive in the middle of the fairway 90 yards out. With wedge in hand, he sent his approach to the back of the narrow 18th green, setting up an easy two-putt par. Beljan bombed his drive but went way right, leaving a nearly impossible up-and-down from the right rough and opening up the winning par for Merrick
On the first playoff hole, Merrick sent his drive well right, which left his approach into the green blocked by trees lining the right side. He opted to punch a low liner from the rough, but the ball went running hot into the green and rolled through to the back apron of the crowded 18th green. Beljan appeared to have the advantage on the first playoff hole after he stepped up on the tee and ripped his drive down the middle. But he missed his wedge approach left, leaving the ball against the cut of the fringe and rough.
With not much room to work with, Merrick chipped his ball onto the green within a few feet, setting up a saving par putt. Beljan, on the other hand, had to awkwardly get his putter blade through the rough and hit his ball square. He rifled the putt from the fringe almost three paces past the hole but cooly made the comebacker to save par and push things to the 10th hole.
Beljan is a promising young player, who first made national headlines with his win last fall at Disney. His battles with panic attacks are now well-chronicled but he is one of the more animated, gregarious players on Tour. He sank several crucial birdie putts coming in, tossing his putter to his caddie and strutting off the green as he made his move up the leaderboard. The biggest putt came on No. 18, where he drilled a winding putt to pull into a tie with Merrick at 11-under. It was a clutch putt for the relatively unknown Beljan, replaying the scene from last year when both Mickelson and Bradley sank two lengthy putts at the amphitheater on the 18th.
Merrick was at the top of a bunched-up leaderboard throughout final few hours on Sunday, but playing partner Fredik Jacobson matched him with back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th holes. Jacobson is known for his streaky play, repeatedly firing numbers in the low 60s and making big moves up the leaderboard. It appeared he had all the momentum coming down the final five-hole stretch, but he missed a short par putt on the 18th to drop a shot and fall out of the playoff between Merrick and Beljan.
Haas started the day with a three-shot lead and had an excellent chance to become the fifth player to repeat at this event. But he could not follow up the Sunday magic from 2012 and was out of contention by the 13th hole, yielding the leaderboard to a group of six players hanging around 10-under.
Playing with Haas were Webb Simpson and Charl Scwartzel, the only two major winners among the the group of leaders at the start of the day. It's incredible that the winner did not come out of that final group of Haas-Simpson-Schwartzel, but all three struggled with wayward approach shots and bumpy, unpredictable poa annua greens that got worse as day wore on. Schwartzel had an opportunity to join the playoff with a putt from the right side of the 18th green (similar to the ones last year), but he missed on the high side of the cup.
Hunter Mahan momentarily held the lead on the back side, and appeared to be making a push at low-round of the day. With a streaky start, he seemed the best bet to pull away from the pack and pick up his sixth career PGA Tour win. But he also tailed off at the end of his round, bogeying three of his last four holes to fall off the top of the leaderboard.
After several weeks of runaway winners (Tiger, Phil, Snedeker), it was nice to have some drama in the final hour of the Sunday broadcast. The names certainly weren't as big as some of the recent winners, but Merrick's story is a good one and he has the talent, and history, to pick up another win this year, including at Augusta.
Here's a final leaderboard, with the top 7 and some other notables:
For a final leaderboard from Riviera, visit Golf.com.