By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- John Merrick calls it the "eternal golfer's dilemma." The former UCLA standout plays in a tournament, and the Northern Trust Open is his fifth straight, and then Merrick picks apart his performance in the quest to improve.
"I've just been trying to regroup each tournament and try to figure out what's gone wrong," Merrick explained. "... It's a work in progress all the time. Just trying to minimize the mistakes and put up a good number each day."
So far, so good, too. After missed cuts the first two weeks of the West Coast swing, Merrick has shot in the 60s in eight of his last 10 rounds -- and the two most recent at Riviera have landed him in a tie for third at 8 under, one shot off the lead.
On Friday, Merrick fired a 66 that included six birdies and a single shot dropped to par. He only hit nine fairways, but that was four more than in the first round, and a solid 15 of 18 greens in regulation.
"I'm feeling comfortable with my swing," Merrick said. "I've been working on it hard. ... I feel like I'm in a good spot and I kind of figured a couple things out with my putting last week up at Pebble and made some good ones. Missed a couple short ones today but I think everyone is going to miss a few putts out there. Overall it was a pretty solid day on the greens, too."
Merrick is from nearby Long Beach and lives within 10 minutes of fellow TOUR pros and long-time buddies Peter Tomasulo, Patrick Cantlay and John Mallinger, who is three strokes behind after two rounds this week. He says he played most of his golf as a collegian at Bel-Air Country Club but he's racked up 30 or 40 rounds at Riviera, enough to feel "comfortable," Merrick says.
"This is a course you can't fake it around, you need to think around here and you can't just pull out driver on every hole or shoot at every flag, so you really have to know where to miss it and where to position yourself," he says. "There's a lot of course management involved with this course, and I think over the years, I've kind of learned where to go and where not to go."
But Merrick, who has made the FedExCup Playoffs each of the first six years of the competition, is still looking for his first PGA TOUR win. The 30-year-old has been runner-up twice, most recently at last year's FedEx St. Jude Classic where he owned a share of the lead after 54 holes.
"I've had a couple close calls, and dwelling on it and thinking about it, I think it's even harder," Merrick said. "I think winning just happens when you're kind of in your process and playing well and doing the best you can on each shot."