It’s a pretty cool thing to win on the PGA Tour. You get a two-year exemption, meaning you have a guaranteed job for the next two years. You earn an invitation to The Masters, one of the two most hallowed golf tournaments in the world played at one of the two most hallowed golf courses in the world. In most cases you’ll earn over a million dollars. John Merrick got all of this and some more intangible things with his win Sunday at the Northern Trust Open. Merrick is a native of Los Angeles, an alumnus of UCLA (about a 3 wood from Riviera) and was making his 169th start on the PGA Tour.
Most players have a “fifth major” on tour, usually an event played near their hometown or perhaps where they went to college, both are the case for John Merrick. Merrick was in tears after his win; overcome with emotion after defeating Charlie Beljan on the second playoff hole. While Merrick did not make his way into this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship he will return to Augusta National in April, where he finish T9 at the 2009 Masters. The biggest winner this week, though, was Riviera Country Club.
Warm weather always helps a tournament. Sometimes Riviera hosts a rainy event for the Northern Trust Open, as was the case in 2005 when Adam Scott’s unofficial 36-hole victory was the result of immense rain. Not the case this year. Temperatures around 80 degrees helped the course play firm and fast and the always tricky kikuyu rough grow up a bit more than normal. Riviera played like a major championship course, especially the way many of the world’s best players fell off on the back nine. Charl Swartzel, Webb Simpson, 54-hole leader Bill Haas, Frederik Jacobson and Hunter Mahan were all either tied for or within a shot of the lead on the back nine. Missed putts and wayward shots that could not be recovered from ended the chances of these men.
The most interesting hole at Riviera is the short par 4 10th. A hole that is reachable off the tee for most players in the field results in so much carnage. Throughout the week Phil Mickelson took a double bogey 6 going for the green, Luke Donald chipped in for an eagle 2 going for the green as did Bill Haas. Brian Gay made a triple bogey 7 laying up off the tee while John Merrick made his clinching par laying up in the playoff. Charlie Beljan said after the playoff that playing the 10th 10,000 times would not give you a better understanding of how to play the hole correctly. That’s why it’s a great hole! That’s why Riviera won this week. Congratulations to John Merrick and Riviera Country Club. I hope we see a major championship there soon.