By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- John Merrick grew up in Long Beach about 45 minutes away from Riviera Country Club. As the crow flies, not as the car drives in this soCal megalopolis, of course.
He attended UCLA, just across the 405 freeway, and went to the Northern Trust Open as a kid where he dreamed of playing the PGA TOUR. He got to the big leagues seven years ago but there was one thing missing on his resume.
And on Sunday, as fate would have it, Merrick took care of that omission as he won his first PGA TOUR event in a playoff with Charlie Beljan with a par on the second extra hole.
"To get a win in my hometown, it's amazing," Merrick said. "It is a dream come true. ... It has not sunk in yet for sure."
The win came in Merrick's 169th start on the PGA TOUR and moved him to fourth in the FedExCup. Merrick has never missed the Playoffs with his best finish 40th in 2008.
Merrick, who started the final round three strokes behind Bill Haas, held at least a share of the lead throughout most of the pressure-packed back nine. But Beljan was the first to post 11 under when he rolled in an 18-footer for birdie and a 67 at the 72nd hole.
Merrick was playing in the penultimate group with Fredrik Jacobson, and both came to Rivieria's 18th at 11 under as Beljan was signing his scorecard. Jacobson missed a 4-footer for par there but Merrick made his from 3 to get into what was the second straight playoff at the Northern Trust Open.
Neither Beljan nor Merrick found the green the second time the two played the 18th hole on Sunday. Merrick chipped to tap-in distance while Beljan had to convert from 6 feet to extend the playoff.
The 10th hole is a driveable par 4 but Merrick chose to lay up with a 3-iron for the second time on Sunday. He had 90 yards and chipped to 18 feet while Beljan's drive strayed well left in the rough.
Beljan's second shot found the collar of the green and he putted from 71 feet to 5. Merrick's birdie attempt came up 21 inches shy and he took no chances, tapping in for par. When Beljan's putt passed the cup, Merrick was a PGA TOUR champion and he wrapped his caddy in a bear hug.
For Beljan, who played through a panic attack to win his first PGA TOUR event in last year's season-ender, Sunday's runner-up finish snapped a string of four missed cuts. He had never played at Riviera before but said he already had a spot for his RV booked for 2014.
"Life's good. Life is good," Beljan said. "... coming down the back nine, I didn't strike the ball that well, but God, I made every clutch putt that you would ever ask to make.
"And then to make that putt on 18 and hear the roar, was really special. Obviously not the way I wanted to end it, but you know what, you win some, you lose some, and that's how it goes."