Rookie Troy Merritt wins Mexico Open in playoff

By Joe Chemycz, PGA TOUR Staff PGATOUR.COM

Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico. — Idaho rookie Troy Merritt rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to beat Australian Adam Bland and win the 51st Mexico Open in Leon. Merritt, a 23-year old from Boise, then watched as Bland missed an 8-foot birdie putt that would have forced the pair to continue.

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“I looked at it from every angle but I was just trying not to overread it,” said Merritt. “That’s when you get into trouble. It was a double-breaker that just caught the low side and went in. It’s unfortunate Adam missed that one.”

The two players finished up a soggy, weather-plagued four days at the El Bosque Country Club tied at 15-under 273. Merritt shared the 54-hole lead with South Africa’s Garth Mulroy and posted a 3-under 69 to match Bland, who set a course record with a career-best 8-under 64.

England’s Matthew Richardson (67) was third, two shots back. Mulroy (72) and Aussie Andrew Buckle (70) shared fourth place three behind. Another Aussie, Steve Bowditch (67) was sixth and four behind the playoff pairing.

“I won a lot in college,” said Merritt, who chalked up 21 total wins in his four seasons at Division II Winona State and Division I Boise State. “The difference between college and here is the level of play. Out here it’s unbelievable. Anybody out here can win any week of the year. I know how to win once I get myself there. To be able to finally come through like this is a great feeling.”

Getting there wasn’t easy for Merritt, who looked like he was headed for a quick week when he started the tournament with four consecutive bogeys on Thursday morning.

“I would always get off to slow starts and be two-over after four or five holes and my college coach would just say that I was spotting them a few strokes,” he said. “You just have to battle back one shot a time and one birdie at a time.”

Slowly, Merritt worked his way back. Seven birdies resulted in a 3-under 69 in round one. A second-day 68 put him into contention. Saturday’s third round featured six birdies and only one bogey.

Merritt and Mulroy, playing in the final threesome, returned to the course early Sunday to finish up one hole of the third round. Both players were 12-under and couldn’t finish on time Saturday because of darkness. Periods of heavy rains and threats of lightning all week had players stopping and starting on a repeated basis. None of the first three rounds was completed on schedule thanks to more than four inches of rain and several near-misses with electricity in the atmosphere.

Merritt started the final round with an eagle putt of 10 feet on the first hole, setting the pace quickly. Mulroy followed with three birdies on the opening five holes, taking the lead at 15-under. Two groups ahead was Bland, a 27-year old from Adelaide who was making a charge at the leaders by making every putt he looked at.

“I knew I was going to have to shoot low because those guys were five in front to start the day,” said Bland. “I knew at least one of them would play well. I made a few putts, holed a few bombs and everything went my way I guess.”

Merritt and Mulroy played cat-and-mouse for most of the afternoon when Merritt pulled away with birdies at Nos. 10, 12 and 13. Bland, meanwhile, kept making birdies to stay within striking distance.

“Adam came out of nowhere with that great round,” said Merritt, who pocketed $117,000 for his first career title and vaulted from No. 146 to No. 27 on the money list. “It was a bit of a shock to have to birdie 16 to get back into the lead.”

The two-time WAC Player of the Year had a chance to end things in regulation but missed a 10-footer for birdie.

“It was a battle all day,” he said. “The key out here is to stay patient, especially on the greens. They’re very tricky to read. You’re not going to shoot low scores if you’re looking at 20-footers for birdie all day.”

It turned out, Merritt needed only to look one extra time.

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