John Merrick never allowed himself to think about winning at Riviera.
Not when he was a kid attending his local PGA Tour event in Los Angeles. 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.”
Beljan, famous for having an anxiety attack when he won at Disney late last year, holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to close with a 4-under 67 and wind up in a playoff.
Merrick won in his 169th start on the PGA Tour, earned another trip to the Masters and is virtually assured to qualifying for his first World Golf Championship next month at Doral.
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.
Woods draws Howell in match play
Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods will face some familiar players in the opening round of the Match Play Championship.
McIlroy, the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland, is the No. 1 seed at Dove Mountain north of Tucson, Ariz. He will play Shane Lowry of Ireland, who got in when Phil Mickelson chose not to play. Woods is the No. 2 and will play Charles Howell III, the first time they have squared off in this format since Woods beat Howell in the quarterfinals of the 1996 U.S. Amateur.
Luke Donald, who won the Match Play in 2011, is the No. 3 seed and opens against Marcel Siem of Germany. Former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa is the No. 4 seed and will play Richie Ramsay of Scotland.
The tournament begins Wednesday.
Bernhard Langer shot a final-round 72 and won his second ACE Group Classic title in three years by one stroke.
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 in Naples, Fla.
Langer, who won this tournament in 2011 and was runner-up last year, survived three bogeys and a double bogey. It was his 17th victory on the Champions Tour, and the seventh year he has won at least one tournament.
Blake, who had four birdies on the front nine, took the lead briefly with a birdie on the par-5 13th to get to 12 under. But Langer also birdied the hole, and added another on No. 14 to take the lead again.
South Korea’s Jiyai Shin won the Australian Women’s Golf Open in Canberra 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.
Shin mixed three birdies with two bogeys in a final round battle with Ko and Tseng of Taiwan, and added the Australian title to her two British Opens among 37 professional victories.
Ko’s share of the lead evaporated quickly when she began the final day with a double bogey and bogey. However, the 15-year-old who was born in South Korea and is based in New Zealand fought back to reclaim the joint lead after 13 holes before Shin rallied.