American and UCLA alum John Merrick won for the first time on the PGA TOUR with his two-hole playoff victory over fellow countryman Charlie Beljan at the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., on Sunday afternoon. Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson, South African Charl Schwartzel and 54-hole leader American Bill Haas rounded out the podium in T3.
John Merrick, the Long Beach, California native becomes the first Los Angeles County native to win The Northern Trust Open (NTO) as he also collects his first-career victory on TOUR. As you and I heard during the telecast, as a young kid Merrick was sitting on the side on the hill on 18 watching his heroes play. As you and I heard with David Feherty after his victory, Merrick admitted he was just thrilled to be able to play in the tournament, let alone win it. He began the day on Sunday nine-under-par and three shots behind 2012 champion, who won his title ironically on No. 10 in a two-hole playoff, Bill Haas. Merrick was in the mix at Riviera this week because of his ball-striking (12th on TOUR) and, believe it or not, his putter, which ranks 172nd in the strokes-gained putting category. The proof than the monster par putt he ran in on No. 14 to keep his momentum going on Sunday. Coming down the stretch Merrick made all the big putts to keep driving towards a playoff. He finished the week 11-under on 273 but it was his closing par four on the second playoff hole that he’ll remember forever!
Last season Merrick played 26 events and managed to hit the top 25 only four times and his best finish was solo second at the FedEx St Jude Classic. In 2011, he played 21 events and had one top 10. This year he started MC, MC and T57 before he finished T16 last week at Pebble Beach so there weren’t any obvious signs of him breaking out for that first win. But, Merrick did make it on to my “Off the Beaten Path” long-shot section of the preview column this week but his best finish in five events here was T54. Merrick now will be playing in the Masters, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship in 2013. With this victory, Merrick earns $1,188,000 plus 500 FedExCup points. Merrick is now No. 4 in the FedExCup standings.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
This was the second consecutive year that the NTO has ended in a playoff.
This is the second playoff on TOUR in 2013 (Humana Challenge).
This is only the second time in 2013 that the 54-hole leader has not closed the deal.
In seven events to start 2013, the 54-hole leader (or co-leader) has gone on to win the tournament five times.
In seven events to start 2013, all seven winners have been Americans.
John Merrick joins Russell Henley as first-time winners in 2013.
He is the first player since Len Mattiace (2002) to hoist his first trophy on TOUR at Riviera.
The seven winners on TOUR have been Johnson (28), Henley (24), Gay (41), Woods (37), Mickelson (42), Snedeker (32) and now Merrick (30). We’re off to a balanced start here in 2013 as the Youth (30 and under), the Middle (30 to 40) and the Old (40-plus) are closely packed together.
Here’s who hit the top 10 and what we learned about them:
Charlie Beljan: In 2012, Beljan only made 11 of 22 cuts but yet found a way to finish third at The Greenbrier Classic and was victorious at the season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. He was more well-known for his panic attacks than he was for his golf and in early 2013 that was still the case. He finished 23rd of 30 at the HTOC to kick of 2013 and had missed four consecutive cuts heading into the NTO. So much for having experience at this track! This was Beljan’s first tournament at Riviera. He’s fun to watch and good for the game but he’s instant indigestion for fantasy gamers! He’s now posted a win, second and third in the last 9 months on TOUR to go along with 15 missed cuts.
Fredrik Jacobson: “The Junkman” as Jacobson is known, is also known for his excellent putting so you and I would have bet the house that he would have made that putt on No. 18 to get into the playoff. Jacobson had some wobbles coming down the stretch on Sunday. He made three bogeys on Sunday after making three bogeys in the first three rounds and we learned this week that he loves Riviera. He adds his T3 to his T13 last season. He’s in nice form T3 this week and T7 last week at Pebble, again, heading to the World Golf Championship-Accenture Match Play next week. I thought the same thing last year and countryman Robert Karlsson beat him 6 & 5 in the first round. Look out!
Bill Haas: He loves Riviera, play and simple. He might not love it as much as last year but he made birdies on 17 and 18 to finish T3. In his last three starts at Riviera, he’s finished T12, WIN and T3. This was Haas’ third straight finish in the top 10 on TOUR in 2013 as he adds his T3 to his T6 at WMPO and T9 at Torrey Pines. My Rotoworld.com colleague Ryan O’Sullivan pointed out that Haas looks much more comfortable with his brother back on his bag. I’ll be keeping an eye on him next week at the WGC-Match Play and will mark him down again for Riviera next year.
Charl Schwartzel: Now, this first-timer at Riviera would have been the choice on Wednesday to make the most noise after his torrid start to 2013. Per Doug Ferguson Twitter account, Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) “Schwartzel misses birdies from 10', 6' and 25' and misses playoff by one. Finishes in his last seven events: 5-3-2-1-1-2-3.” Wow. Read that last Twitter fragment again. He made five bogeys in four rounds on a course he’s never played in tournament golf before. Those chances down the stretch hurt, but we all remember his birdies on Nos. 15, 16, 17 and 18 to win the 2011 Masters. We know he can putt!
Josh Teater: TEATER HEATER returns! He should be labeled TEATER TOTTER for 2013 but if you have been on the “hot” weeks, you, the gamer, are NOT complaining. Teater finished eagle-birdie to jump from T9 up to T6 to finish in the top 10 for the second time this year. He was T2 at Torrey Pines at the end of January but MC at WMPO and was T50 last week at Pebble Beach. His solid ball-striking and steady putting has gotten him off to an excellent start in 2013.
Webb Simpson: Gamers welcome back Simpson to the top 10 this week for the first time in 2013. Folks like me were getting nervous that Simpson might have lost his edge but his T6 this week is his best finish since the TOUR Championship last season. Simpson continues to get closer. He entered this week with rounds of 66, 65 and 65 in his last three tournaments so he wasn’t too far off. His second round 66 (5-under) this week set him up for a solid weekend finish. He only made seven bogeys this week as well. He’s getting closer to popping.
Sang-Moon Bae: This is Bae’s first top 10 since he fell in a four-way playoff to Luke Donald at the Transitions last March. Bae has now made five cuts on the bounce but his best finish was T27 in 2013. This was also his first time at Riviera, our third member, so far, of the top 10 to do so! He did hit 17 of 25 cuts last year so keep him in mind moving forward if you need someone in a deep draft format.
Hunter Mahan: Another week, another top 16 finish for the Orange, California native. Mahan came into the week with T15, T16 and T16 finishes this year in full-field events and his T8 this week shouldn’t come as much of a surprise based on his successes on the West Coast over the last few years. He’s putting better than 2012 and anytime there is a course where ball-striking is a premium, Mahan needs to be on your list. He’ll defend next week at the WGC-Match Play.
Greg Chalmers: He opened 2013 with 64 at Humana but finished T47, MC and T36 in his first three starts before his T10 this week at Riviera. Chalmers, who was piping hot entering LAST season after he won twice in Australia in December, only hit the top 10 once in 25 starts last year. He’s now matched that in four starts in 2013. Chalmers goes as his putter goes and his 67 on Sunday moved him up 12 places to hit the top 10. His last three events at Riviera he MC, MC and was T61 so spotters badge for those of you who had him this week!
Ted Potter, Jr.: After a quiet start to the season, “The Wizard” has now hit the top 25 in three straight events including his T10 at the NTO on Sunday. He only had played here once, last year, and MC. His worst round in his last 11 is 73, once. Nine of his last 11 rounds are also under par so he’s off to an excellent start. This time last year, as a rookie, in six events, he missed three cuts and had a T54 and T70 on his ledger sheet. These last three weeks are a good sign for gamers who have invested him the “new” TPJ.
Adam Scott: Welcome to the 2013 season! The 2005 (unofficial; rain-shortened) champ shows again why there are some guys you can just throw out the stats and just have faith in picking. For the second time in two years, Scott has chosen to open his U.S. season at Riviera and he’s finished T17 and T10. He’s horse-for-course at Riviera and plenty of other places!
“Hey, what ever happened to…”
Bubba Watson: Wow. He posted his first BIRDIE-free round since 2010 in his opening round 77 this week. First Dufner, now Watson, I’ve been burned twice in six events already! I’m going to have tighten up and play some chalk if I’m going to contend in any of these online games this season! Watson made two whopping birdies on Friday so at least he didn’t tease. He’ll be fine, just like Dufner will, but it’s a shot to the bottom line and the pride when those guys MC.
Sergio Garcia: He backed up his T4 in 2012 with T13 this year. Garcia closed last year with 64 and opened this year with 65 so you know he’s comfortable here.
Phil Mickelson: Only one round under par sounds about right for a T21 finish. His history here is what drives gamers to play him. His unpredictability causes them to curse his name. We’ll see Mickelson at Doral (?) as he goes on his annual late February hiatus.
Jimmy Walker: Well, there goes his streak of T4s ended! In his first six events of the year, Walker, in 24 rounds, never shot higher than 72. He did that only twice. The work with Butch Harmon is paying off. He’s made six straight cuts and has only one finish outside of the top 26 (T54 at WMPO). He is automatic on the Torrey-Pebble-Riviera swing.
Aaron Baddeley: After winning here in 2011 and finishing T11 last year, Baddeley looked to be a safety net this week, especially after his solid start to 2013. His T6 at Torrey paired with T12 at Pebble made his opening round 78 even more confusing!
Luke Donald: Donald begins his season with his best season opener in five years with T16 this week. After 78 and 79 in his last two trips to Riviera, Donald was fighting those demons again as he began Sunday in fifth place before fading with 75. Something about this course that brings out a round like that in him!
Ryan Moore: He was doing the 2012 Luke Donald on Sunday imitation as he bogeyed five of his first six holes on the back nine on Sunday. After making only two bogeys before the weekend, Moore carded eight on the weekend to finish T27.
Lee Westwood: He finished T21 as his 74 on Saturday knocked him out of making a serious run on Sunday. He’ll be one of the favorites for me next week in the WGC-Match Play.
Dustin Johnson: Second week in a row playing with Gretzky. Second week in a row MC. Coincidence? Great, another fantasy golfer issue to try and dissect. #fantasygolfproblems.
Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a live chat TUESDAY at NOON ET at Rotoworld.com. We will be breaking down the field at the WGC-Accenture Match Play and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter. PLEASE NOTE THE NEW DAY FOR THIS WEEK ONLY!