John Merrick, a son of Westwood, enjoys his day in sun at Riviera

John Merrick beats Charlie Beljan on second playoff hole to win Northern Trust Open at the Pacific Palisades course, just a few miles from UCLA, his alma mater.

The playoff that led to the payoff at Riviera Country Club was always so freeway close, yet it took seven years of weaving through all the traffic.

Isn't that life in L.A.?

John Merrick was born in Long Beach, played at UCLA and had scuffed around the pro ranks since 2004 looking for his first PGA Tour win.

He'd played Riviera Country Club many times, never with a $1.18-million purse at stake, and watched the Northern Trust Open as a spectator. He remembers, as a fan, standing 10 feet from 2001 winner Robert Allenby.

Merrick is now 30, though, and was growing older by the minute when he teed up this week to face all the big names he could never defeat: Phil Mickelson, Bill Haas, Luke Donald.

So it was a rush the size of Mt. Rushmore on Sunday when Merrick walked off the grounds, a few miles from Pauley Pavilion, with his first tour trophy.

How about a UCLA eight-clap?

Merrick outlasted another feel-good story, Charlie Beljan, on the second playoff hole to escape with the victory.

Merrick won with rounds of 68-66-70-69 and then promised that the first celebratory round was on him.

Forgive his eyes for welling up like a backed-up sink as he waited for reality to sink in.

"I live 45 minutes away," he said. "I went to school across the freeway at UCLA. I've been to this tournament more than any other growing up and this is my first win. The laundry list goes on and on and, yeah, it's cool."

Merrick became the first Los Angeles County native to win the event. Corey Pavin, a two-time winner and also a former UCLA Bruin, was born in Oxnard, in Ventura County.

Merrick and Beljan finished regulation at 11-under-par 273, with Beljan needing an 18-foot putt on No. 18 to get in playoff position.

Merrick and Beljan returned to 18, where both made par on the first playoff hole, then trudged off to the diabolical, 315-yard par-four 10th.

This is the hole where heroes and fools are made. Last year, Haas rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt to win a playoff on the second hole against Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.

Sunday, Merrick took the safe route, laying up with a three-iron while Beljan chose to wind-up blast his drive, which went left into thick rough.

Merrick wedged a second shot to the green and two-putted for par, then watched Beljan try to slither home a downhill four-footer to extend the playoff.

Beljan yanked the putt left, and that meant merriment for Merrick.

This will be remembered as the Northern Trust Open everyone but the groundskeeper had a chance to win.

Haas, Fredrik Jacobson and Charl Schwartzel finished at 10-under 274 and kicked themselves all the way to the parking lot.

Connect
Advertisement

VIDEO