Rookie Troy Merritt wins Mexico Open in playoff

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Troy Merritt pumps his fist after sinking the putt to win the 2009 Mexico Open, Merritt's first win on the Nationwide Tour.
September 06, 2009
Joe Chemycz, PGA TOUR Staff

Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico. -- Idaho rookie Troy Merritt rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to beat Australian Adam Bland and win the 51st Mexico Open in Leon. Merritt, a 23-year old from Boise, then watched as Bland missed an 8-foot birdie putt that would have forced the pair to continue.

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"I looked at it from every angle but I was just trying not to overread it," said Merritt. "That's when you get into trouble. It was a double-breaker that just caught the low side and went in. It's unfortunate Adam missed that one."

The two players finished up a soggy, weather-plagued four days at the El Bosque Country Club tied at 15-under 273. Merritt shared the 54-hole lead with South Africa's Garth Mulroy and posted a 3-under 69 to match Bland, who set a course record with a career-best 8-under 64.

England's Matthew Richardson (67) was third, two shots back. Mulroy (72) and Aussie Andrew Buckle (70) shared fourth place three behind. Another Aussie, Steve Bowditch (67) was sixth and four behind the playoff pairing.

"I won a lot in college," said Merritt, who chalked up 21 total wins in his four seasons at Division II Winona State and Division I Boise State. "The difference between college and here is the level of play. Out here it's unbelievable. Anybody out here can win any week of the year. I know how to win once I get myself there. To be able to finally come through like this is a great feeling."

Getting there wasn't easy for Merritt, who looked like he was headed for a quick week when he started the tournament with four consecutive bogeys on Thursday morning.

"I would always get off to slow starts and be two-over after four or five holes and my college coach would just say that I was spotting them a few strokes," he said. "You just have to battle back one shot a time and one birdie at a time."

Slowly, Merritt worked his way back. Seven birdies resulted in a 3-under 69 in round one. A second-day 68 put him into contention. Saturday's third round featured six birdies and only one bogey.

Merritt and Mulroy, playing in the final threesome, returned to the course early Sunday to finish up one hole of the third round. Both players were 12-under and couldn't finish on time Saturday because of darkness. Periods of heavy rains and threats of lightning all week had players stopping and starting on a repeated basis. None of the first three rounds was completed on schedule thanks to more than four inches of rain and several near-misses with electricity in the atmosphere.

Merritt started the final round with an eagle putt of 10 feet on the first hole, setting the pace quickly. Mulroy followed with three birdies on the opening five holes, taking the lead at 15-under. Two groups ahead was Bland, a 27-year old from Adelaide who was making a charge at the leaders by making every putt he looked at.

"I knew I was going to have to shoot low because those guys were five in front to start the day," said Bland. "I knew at least one of them would play well. I made a few putts, holed a few bombs and everything went my way I guess."

Merritt and Mulroy played cat-and-mouse for most of the afternoon when Merritt pulled away with birdies at Nos. 10, 12 and 13. Bland, meanwhile, kept making birdies to stay within striking distance.

"Adam came out of nowhere with that great round," said Merritt, who pocketed $117,000 for his first career title and vaulted from No. 146 to No. 27 on the money list. "It was a bit of a shock to have to birdie 16 to get back into the lead."

The two-time WAC Player of the Year had a chance to end things in regulation but missed a 10-footer for birdie.

"It was a battle all day," he said. "The key out here is to stay patient, especially on the greens. They're very tricky to read. You're not going to shoot low scores if you're looking at 20-footers for birdie all day."

It turned out, Merritt needed only to look one extra time.

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Third-Round Notes:

• The third round resumed at 8:00 a.m. and was completed at 8:35 a.m.

Wil Collins, who was tied for fourth place at 9-under after 54 holes, was disqualified after the round. Collins learned during the third round that he had taken an improper drop on the 8th hole during the second round. He thus signed for an incorrect scorecard and was subsequently DQ'd.

• Co-leaders Garth Mulroy and Troy Merritt both parred the final hole early Sunday morning to finish as 54-hole co-leaders at 12-under 204.

• Here is how the third-round leaderboard looked after play was completed:

1. Troy Merritt 204 (-12)

Garth Mulroy 204 (-12)

3. Andrew Buckle 206 (-10)

4. Camilo Benedetti 207 (-9)

5. Matt Every 208 (-8)

Matthew Richardson 208 (-8)

• The scoring average for the third round was 71.079.

Derek Lamely had two eagles during the round, both on par-5 holes (Nos. 8 and 18).

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Fourth-Round Notes:

• Lift, clean and place conditions were in effect for the final round.

• Another 0.85" of rain fell overnight, pushing the total for the week to just over 4 inches. Since a week ago Saturday, more than 6 inches of rain has fallen on the course.

Front 9 Back 9 Total
Round 1 37.993 37.112 75.105
Round 2 36.429 35.929 72.357
Round 3 35.921 35.159 71.079
Round 4 35.603 36.286 71.889
Cumulative 36.770 36.279 73.049

• Scoring averages for the week:

Steven Taylor had a hole-in-one at the 130-yard, 12th hole. He used a pitching wedge. Taylor's ace was the first recorded this week and the 13th on Tour this year, but it was the first since the Fort Smith Classic in mid-June.

• Former Florida Gators Camilo Benedetti and Matt Every were paired together Sunday. While they both played for the same school, they were never teammates in Gainesville. Benedetti graduated in 2002, just before Every arrived on campus.

Sal Spallone had two eagles on Sunday. One at the par-4 5th (135 yards/PW) and one at the par-5 10th.

• Runner-up Adam Bland collected $70,200, more than doubling his previous season total of $64,793. Bland moved up from No. 65 to No. 25 on the money list with $134,993.

• Australia's Steven Bowditch finished alone in sixth place and earned $23,400, which is slightly more than the $20,905 he has pocketed in his last 42 starts, dating back to the 2007 Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational.

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