Monday Backspin: Merrick's hometown win an emotional one

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February 18, 2013
Brian Wacker,

It’s a quick turnaround this week on the PGA TOUR with the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship beginning on Wednesday, which means one fewer day of travel and one fewer day of rest.

Unless you’re John Merrick. His victory Sunday at the Northern Trust Open didn’t get him into the field in Tucson, but the former UCLA standout could probably use the extra time to soak it all in.

“I don't know, might have to go off the record on that one,” he said when asked how he planned to celebrate his first career victory. “Friends and family will probably gather at my house in Long Beach and we'll have a couple beverages over there. But I'm going to enjoy this.”

The win was certainly an emotional one for the So Cal native for all the obvious reasons. He was just relieved to get it done after six mostly productive but not great years.

“It sounds like a cliché, but I was just trying to do one shot at a time,” Merrick said. “My heart was racing out there. I was nervous. I was just trying to grind it out and be tough and do the best that I could.

“To win a tournament in front of family and friends and in your hometown with people shouting out 'Bruins' and 'Long Beach' to win a tournament in front of them, on the PGA TOUR with this field and all the past champions and this golf course. I can't even describe it. It's a dream come true.”

As for the rest of the week, there’s a lot to it, including details of the President Barack Obama and Tiger Woods round over the weekend, not to mention the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Let’s get to it, and more.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“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. -- Charlie Beljan after losing a playoff on the reachable par-4 10th, which played as the 11th-most difficult at Riviera for the week.

“It’s just a 3-iron and you've got a full lob wedge where you can take a full swing and put spin on the ball. Yeah, I think that's the way to play that hole.” -- John Merrick’s viewpoint on how to play No. 10 at Riviera.

TWEETS OF THE WEEK

@DJohnsonPGA: Ughhhh #TGIF -- Dustin Johnson after missing the cut in LA. He’s now gone WD, T51, MC, MC in his four starts since winning the season-opener.
@TimRosaforte: The President is arriving at The Floridian range. Awaiting is Tiger Woods and club owner Jim Crane. Historic day in golf. Their first round. --Rosaforte on Barack Obama’s round with Woods on Sunday.

THE BACK NINE: 9 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. What a difference a day made for Bill Haas, who had a nine-shot swing the wrong direction in the final round at Riviera. It wasn’t the first time he’d suffered a Sunday swoon, though. During last year’s FedExCup Playoffs, Haas, the defending FedExCup champ at the time, failed to advance to East Lake following a final-round 78 at the BMW Championship that sent him tumbling down the leaderboard and out of the Playoffs. “It seems like the same old story,” Haas said that day in Boston. “Under the gun I haven’t been able to get it done. It’s something I’ve got to address. When there’s a pressure situation I’ve got to be able to bear down and shoot a good number and not just blow up.” He tried to take the positives from Sunday -- being in contention on a tough golf course -- but Haas isn’t much for moral victories and his words in Boston could have easily applied in L.A.

2. Speaking of silver linings, there was a bittersweet one again for Charlie Beljan. The 28-year-old moved to No. 64 in the Official World Golf Ranking with his runner-up finish. Only it came a week too late and didn’t get him in the field for this week’s World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, which would have been his first career WGC event. Last year, Beljan won the season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, but the victory didn’t earn him an invite to the Masters because it came in the Fall Series. A victory Sunday of course would have. “Walking up 18 with my caddie in regulation, he said, ‘let's just slow down,’” Beljan said. “I said, let's just picture ourselves at the Masters on the second shot and that's what we did.” It worked out in regulation but not so well in the playoff. But Augusta National was clearly on Beljan’s brain. “The Masters was running through my mind for sure,” he continued. “That's the one golf tournament I want to play in the most.  But unfortunately it didn't pan out.” He’ll have a few more opportunities over the next couple of months.

3. There was one consolation prize for Beljan. He apparently had Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson sign his visor when the three played together in Friday’s second round. Beljan plans to frame it.

4. Beljan will also have a long commute to his next start. He travels to each stop in an RV, rather than flying (he passed out on a flight back from Reno last year, and his panic attack last fall is well-documented). “I have a 2,260-mile drive to Honda,” Beljan said. First, though, he’ll stop at the Daytona 500, where Danica Patrick became the first woman to capture the pole. “My first-ever NASCAR race,” Beljan said. He’ll also squeeze in a round at TPC Sawgrass, where he’ll play in his first PLAYERS Championship later this spring. Like I said, not a bad consolation.

5.  Stat of the Week I: In 14 prior rounds at Riviera, John Merrick only had three that were under par. Last week, three of his four rounds were in the 60s, proving timing is everything and that sometimes the past doesn’t mean a whole lot. Or at least that Merrick learned from his. “Going into 2010, I put way too much pressure on myself to win a tournament and I was too focused on winning tournaments rather than just playing,” he said. “You can't force it. You obviously want to win, but I think it just happens. You play well and you add them up at the end and sometimes you win and sometimes you don't.”

6. Stat of the Week II: Via Golf Magazine’s Cam Morfit, Merrick tied for sixth at the 2009 Masters, which earned him an invite for 2010 (he missed the cut). How’d he get into the 2009 Masters? A tie for sixth at the U.S. Open, of course.

7. Stat of the Week III: On July 5, 2009 during the AT&T National at Congressional, Tiger Woods talked about playing golf with President Barack Obama, saying, among other things, “He's got a lot on his plate. We'll get it done sometime.” Fast forward 1,323 days, and they did just that on a blustery Sunday at The Floridian in Plant City, Fla., where POTUS and Woods reportedly played 18 holes together before Woods took off and Obama got it another nine. Golf World’s Tim Rosaforte did an excellent job with the details.

8. It’s golf’s version of March Madness, only it happens in February and No. 64 has beaten No. 1. The brackets are out for the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, and you can sign up for our Bracket Challenge here.

9. One noticeable absence from this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship: Brandt Snedeker, who reinjured his ribs during his win at Pebble Beach. Snedeker had an X-ray last week and according to his coach, Todd Anderson, the FedExCup leader could miss significant time. With the year’s first major less than two months away, Anderson expects Snedeker to take a cautionary approach in his recovery, meaning he could miss the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, too.  

MONDAY BACKSPIN MAILBAG
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Do you ever think Sergio will get a major? Why or why not? He's one of my favorites. -- Jason Lingefelt

A dozen years ago, Garcia certainly seemed destined to after finishing second at the 1999 PGA Championship. Now it’s looking like his career might mimic former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, who got to the Super Bowl in the beginning of his career never to return. The good news for Garcia, though, is he’s still just 33 years old and has a lot of golf ahead of him. I still think Garcia’s best chances are at a British Open, and it could still happen.

Why does everyone fear that Tiger Woods won't get back to his dominating best? -- Mark Richmond

I don’t know that anyone fears it much as they think it will be extremely difficult for Woods to return to that level. Remember, at his best, Woods won 35 percent of the time from 1999 to 2009. At 37 years old, a handful of major leg surgeries later and with the TOUR as deep as it has ever been it’s just a lot to ask and Woods has spoiled us with his own greatness.

What tournament do you think Brandt Snedeker is targeting for a return? Is it really the WGC-Cadillac Championship or later? -- John Hamilton

As I mentioned earlier, he’s taking the safe route. That said, it’s certainly possible he could be at TPC Blue Monster at Doral, if his ribs are fully healed. That’s a big if, however, and if I was guessing I would say it will be later. But it really depends on how fast he heals.

Forward Spin
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The World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship can be a total guessing game, mostly because there’s not much separation between Nos. 1 and 64 and it’s all about match-ups. That said, it’s hard not to like Tiger Woods’ chances. Though he’s been knocked out early the last few years, he’s won the event three times and is coming off a victory at Torrey Pines, where he looked as in control of his game as he has in years. I also like his fellow Sean Foley pupil Justin Rose. Woods will open against Charles Howell III in a rematch of their 1996 U.S. Amateur match at Pumpkin Ridge, where a 20-year-old Tiger beat a 17-year-old Howell early in the week. Another intriguing first-round matche? Defending champion Hunter Mahan against Matteo Manassero, who has won his first-round match each of the last two years. Print out a bracket here

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