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Monday, February 18, 2013 - Page updated at 06:30 p.m.
Even John Merrick's dreams were gaudy enough for him to win at Riviera
LOS ANGELES — John Merrick was a young face in the crowd at Riviera for so many years, dreaming of one day playing the fabled course on the PGA Tour.
Sunday, he did better than that. He won on it.
Merrick hit two clutch shots that led to two pars in a sudden-death playoff and won the Northern Trust Open on Sunday when Charlie Beljan missed a 5-foot par putt on the second extra hole.
Merrick closed with a 2-under 69. It could not have come at a better place. Merrick grew up in Long Beach, attended this event as a kid and went to school down the street at UCLA.
"I can't put this into words," he said off the 10th green, his eyes welling with tears. "Growing up as a kid, coming out here, I just wanted to play this tournament."
It was a tough finish for Beljan, famous for having an anxiety attack when he won at Disney late last year. He holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole, similar to the theatrics provided last year by Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, to close with a 4-under 67 and wind up in a playoff as he joined Merrick at 11-under 273.
He had to make a tough 6-foot putt for par on No. 18 on the first playoff hole. Going to the par-4 10th, 315 yards of sheer nerves, Beljan drove long and left, and his chip didn't reach the green. He putted his third shot just above the hole, and watched it slide by on the left for a bogey.
Fredrik Jacobson missed a 4-foot par putt on the 18th hole that would have put the Swede in a playoff. He wound up with a 69 and tied for third with Charl Schwartzel (70) and Bill Haas (73), who also had chances to win at different stages in their rounds.
The final round contained far more drama than anyone imagined at the start of the day, when Haas had a three-shot lead. Six players were separated by one shot going into the final hour at Riviera, and it easily could have been a repeat of that six-man playoff in 2001 in the cold rain.
This pleasant day of bright sunshine brought a few cloudy moments.
Hunter Mahan was tied for the lead after a 30-foot birdie on the 14th, only to drop four shots on the last four holes. Nothing stung worse than the par-5 17th, where he three-putted from about 30 feet for bogey. He wound up with a 69.
Jacobson was tied for the lead when he missed an 8-foot birdie attempt on the 17th, and then badly pulled a 4-foot par putt on the last hole and missed out on the playoff. The Swede closed with a 69, and bristled when asked about the final hole.
"You want me to touch that one, only that one? I cannot speak about something else?" he said, before eventually conceding, "The last putt wasn't very good."
Haas faded much sooner. He made five bogeys in a seven-hole stretch in the middle of his round, and his birdie-birdie finish allowed him to tie for third.
Ryan Moore of Puyallup closed with a 74 for a 2-under 282 total to tied for 27th and win $45,870. Seattle product Fred Couples had a 72 for a 286, 2 over, to tie for 46th and win $18,295.
the top seeds
Rory McIlroy is the No. 1 seed at the Match Play Championship this week in Tucson, Ariz., and will play Shane Lowry of Ireland.
Tiger Woods is the second seed and meets Charles Howell III. Luke Donald, who won the Match Play in 2011, is the No. 3 seed and opens against Marcel Siem of Germany.
The tournament begins Wednesday.
• Bernhard Langer shot a final-round 72 and won his second ACE Group Classic title in three years, this one by one stroke in Naples, Fla. Langer two-putted from 50 feet on the 18th for par to finish at 12-under 204, ahead of Jay Don Blake at TwinEagles Club's Talon Course.
• Darren Fichardt of South Africa posted a final-round 71 to finish at 16-under and win the Africa Open by two shots in East London, South Africa.
• South Korea's Jiyai Shin won the Australian Women's Open by two shots, finishing with a 1-under 72 to beat world No. 1 Yani Tseng after being tied for the overnight lead with teenage star Lydia Ko at Royal Canberra.
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