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PACIFIC PALISADES, California - Local favorite John Merrick won his first PGA Tour title by beating fellow American Charlie Beljan in a sudden-death playoff for the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on Sunday.
Journeyman Merrick sealed victory with a rock-solid par at the second extra hole, the driveable par-four 10th, after laying up off the tee with an iron and hitting his approach to 18 feet.
John Merrick of the US poses with his trophy after winning the Northern Trust Open golf tournament at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, Feb 17, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]
Beljan missed the green long to the left after using a driver. He left his chip short and then, after a long-range approach putt from just off the fringe, lipped out with a par putt from five feet.
Merrick and Beljan both parred the first extra hole, the uphill 18th, where Beljan had to sink a nerve-jangling six-footer to keep the playoff alive.
"Growing up here in LA, I just wanted to come to this tournament," Merrick, who was born in Long Beach, said greenside after booking a place at this year's Masters. "Now to win it, this is a dream come true."
Merrick, 30, studied at the nearby University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and said earlier this week he had probably played at least 30 rounds at Riviera as a student.
The duo had finished the 72 regulation holes on 11-under-par 273, Merrick closing with a two-under 69 and Beljan sinking an 18-foot birdie putt at the last for a joint best-of-the-day 67.
"To make that putt on 18 and hear the roar, was really special," said Beljan, who won his first PGA Tour title at the Children's Miracle Network Classic in November despite suffering a panic attack midway through the tournament.
"Obviously not the way I wanted to end it, but you know what, you win some, you lose some, and that's how it goes."
Swede Fredrik Jacobson finished one stroke shy of joining the playoff after agonisingly missing a five-foot putt to bogey the par-four 18th.
Jacobson signed off with a 69 to share third place at 10 under with 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel of South Africa (70) and American Bill Haas (73), the overnight leader.
US Open champion Webb Simpson (71) was a further stroke back in a tie for sixth with fellow American Josh Teater, who stormed home with an eagle-birdie finish for a 69.