5 Birdies in Final 6 Holes Not Quite Enough for Merrit; He Ties for 4th at Safeway
October 9, 2018
NAPA, Calif. -- Troy Merritt began Sunday's final round of the Safeway Open tied for fifth place at 10 under par (216). Twelve holes later, he was slip-sliding his way right out of the top 10.
Actually, the 32-year-old former All-American from Winona State wasn't even in the top 15 anymore. At that point, he was 1 over par (3 bogeys, 2 birdies). Then he birdied the 458-yard, par-4 13th hole, one of the hardest holes on the North Course at the Silverado Resort & Spa, and that seemed to flip some sort of switch in Merritt, because he parred the next hole and then birdied the last four in a row.
His burst of five birdies in six holes wasn't quite good enough to get him into a playoff for first place -- he came up one stroke short of that -- but it was good enough for a 4-under 68, a 72-hole total of 275, and a share of fourth. That was worth $241,280.
Kevin Tway, the son of former PGA champion Bob Tway, had an even faster finish than Merritt. He birdied the last five holes that he played, and the result was his first PGA Tour victory -- and $1,152,000.
Tway came to Napa with a reputation for not being able to close the deal. The most recent example of that was the RBC Canadian Open this summer. Tway began the final round there tied for the lead but shot 76 on Sunday and wound up in a tie for 17th.
On Sunday at the Safeway, he seemed to be doing it again. Having started the day in second place, three shots behind the leader, Brandt Snedeker, he was 1 over through 16 holes and still three behind Snedeker, even though Snedeker was struggling with his game on a difficult day for scoring. (The wind was gusting to more than 30 mph early in the round.) But Tway made a late charge and wiped out the deficit on the last two holes, first by making a birdie at the 375-yard, par-4 17th, while Snedeker was making a bogey, and then by birdying the 586-yard, par-5 18th, while Snedeker was making a par.
The birdie-birdie finish in regulation gave Tway a 71 for the round and a cumulative 274 (14 under), which got him into a playoff with Snedeker, who shot 74, and Ryan Moore, who birdied three of his last four holes for a 67. In the playoff, Tway just kept making birdies, another three in a row as a matter of fact.
Tway, 30, is one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour. During the 2017-18 season, he hit more than 300 drives more than 320 yards, and ranked No. 1 on the tour in that category. So starting the playoff on a par-5, No. 18, wasn't a bad thing for him. He had just birdied it to conclude his round, and he birdied it again to begin the playoff. Moore birdied it, too, but Snedeker made a par and was eliminated.
Tway and Moore played the 18th again for their second playoff hole, and Tway hooked his tee shot into the left rough. He had to manufacture a low hook around a tree with a 6-iron from more than 200 yards away, but he managed to get the ball on the green in two, albeit 45 feet away from the hole. Moore, who was in the middle of the fairway with his drive, put his second shot 20 feet from the cup. He came up just short with his eagle putt, and Tway two-putted for his birdie to keep the playoff going.
It then moved to the par-4 10th hole after that, and that was where it ended. Tway hit a wedge shot to 10 feet and made the putt for a birdie. Although he had just made three birdies in a row himself, Moore couldn't match this one. As a consolation, he got $563,200, as did Snedeker.
Merritt ended up in a five-way tie for fourth, along with Luke List (who averaged 339.5 off the tee for the week), Sam Ryder, Aaron Baddeley and Sungjae Im. J.B. Holmes was next, two further behind at 277, in ninth place.
For Merritt, the road to the PGA Tour could be thought of as long and winding. He was born in Iowa, but his family moved to Idaho, where he lived until just before he started 10th grade. That was when the family relocated in Fridley, but Troy went to Spring Lake Park High School, where he was a star in two sports -- basketball and golf. His best finish at the state high school golf tournament was fifth place as a senior in 2004.
He started his college career at Winona State and was selected as an All-American as a sophomore. In the summer, he worked at Oak Ridge CC, where the club was fairly generous about giving him time to work on his game, and access to the course and practice facilities. But the club became more restrictive about those things in 2006, between his sophomore and junior years. An uncle, who still lived in Idaho and had just taken a marketing job at SpurWing CC in Meridian (about 15 minutes from Boise), suggested that Troy go there. He said the club would be more willing than Oak Ridge to accomodate his nephew's desire to play and practice.
So off Troy went, back to Idaho. One day duriing that summer, he played a round with the SpurWing pro -- and shot 63. The pro, who was a friend of the Boise State coach made a call to his buddy, and that was how Merritt ended up at Boise State, playing in Division I. It was a step up, but by the second half of his senior year, Merritt winning every tournament he played in. He won his last five regular season events, including the Western Association Conference Championshiips, and had the lowest scoring average in NCAA Division I golf -- 69.3 strokes per round.
After one year on what was then the Nationwide Tour -- now the Web.com -- he went to PGA Tour Q-School in 2009 and led the six-round Final Stage from wire to wire. In 2011, Merritt dropped out of the top 125 on the tour money list and lost his exempt status. He played lesser tours for a couple of years but then regained his PGA Tour Card, by way of the Web.com, and claimed his first PGA Tour victory at the 2015 Quicken Loans.
This summer, he won again, the Barbasol Championship, where he opened with a 62 and closed with a 67 for a three-shot victory. Eleven days later, he underwent an emergency operation to remove a blood clot that stretched from his chest to his bicep. Evidently, the operation was a success, because Merritt played in a tournament six days after that, although he did miss the cut.
At Silverado Resort & Spa - North Course
Final results (par for holes in playoff -- 5-5-4)
1. Kevin Tway $1,152,000 68-67-68-71--274 (won 3-man playoff -- 4-4-3)
2. Ryan Moore $563,200 67-67-73-67--274 (4-4-4)
3. Brandt Snedeker $563,200 66-65-69-74--274
T4. Troy Merritt $241,280 67-70-70-68--275
T4. Luke List $241,280 70-69-69-67--275
T4. Sam Ryder $241,280 69-70-67-69--275
T4. Aaron Baddeley $241,280 70-67-69-69--275
T4. Sungjae Im $241,280 66-69-69-71--275
Missed cut -- 141
Brady Schnell 72-71--143