LOS ANGELES — John Merrick never allowed himself to think about winning at Riviera.
Not when he was a kid attending his local PGA Tour event. Not when he was at UCLA and could play the fabled course. And certainly not late Sunday afternoon in a playoff when he faced a daunting 3-iron shot under a row of eucalyptus trees, and his opponent was in the middle of the fairway with a wedge in his hand.
No wonder Merrick was at a loss for words when he won the Northern Trust Open.
“Yeah, you dream,” Merrick said, his eyes still glossy. “When you’re alone sometimes, you think about different scenarios of winning tournaments. It was fun. We would always play here at UCLA and have great games out here. To be able to play the tournament was a dream of mine. But to win? I can’t describe it. It’s so much fun.”
Merrick hit the perfect shot under the trees on the 18th to escape with par, and he followed with another flawless shot to a skinny section of the 10th green on the second playoff hole to 18 feet. He made another par, and won when Charlie Beljan missed a 5-foot par putt.
It was the second straight year the Northern Trust Open was decided in a playoff on the 10th, a diabolical par 4 at 315 yards that requires skill and strategy, a hole where players are happy to walk off with par. Beljan made bogey twice on the 10th, once in a regulation and then when the tournament was on the line.
He went long and left both times, and in the playoff, his chip didn’t quite reach the green and he took three putts from 70 feet.
“I think you could play here 10,000 times and still not know how to play No. 10,” he said. “Eighteen is a great golf hole. I just find it tough that we go to No. 10 to play a playoff hole. I think 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.”