AUGUSTA, Ga. — The first time John Merrick visited Augusta National, he got a lecture from one of the green jackets.
Now he’s got an invitation to come back next year.
Merrick shot a 66 on Sunday, giving him low round of the day and an automatic entry into next year’s tournament. The top 16 finishers qualify, and Merrick finished in a four-way tie for sixth with Tiger Woods, Steve Flesch and Steve Stricker.
“Fun day out there,” said Merrick, who finished at 8-under for the tournament. “I can’t wait to tee it up again next year.”
Merrick had only been to Augusta National once before his sixth-place finish at the 2008 U.S. Open earned him a trip to this year’s Masters, but boy, was it memorable. He played college golf at UCLA, and the Bruins came to the Augusta State Invitational in 2004 when Merrick was a senior. All of the teams get tickets for Monday’s practice round, and Merrick said he was chastised when a committee member caught him lounging on the ground beside the 18th green.
“He said, ‘Son, you can’t be laying down on the grounds of Augusta National,’ ” Merrick said. “We had a long night out the night before.”
Merrick wasn’t loafing Sunday.
After playing the front nine at 2 under, he and playing partner Geoff Ogilvy took off on the back nine. Merrick birdied 13, 14, 15 and 16, including making a 20-footer on the 14th hole. Ogilvy went one better, also making birdie on the 17th hole.
“Everything was kind of falling. It was fun,” Merrick said. “I’m more than excited about the way I played in my first Masters.”
Especially with how brutally Augusta National usually treats rookies.
It often takes players several years to learn the intricacies of the course and get a feel for the speedy, rolling greens. Jack Nicklaus missed the cut in his first appearance, and Tiger Woods didn’t break par his first two times here. Fuzzy Zoeller is still the only player to win in his first appearance.
But Merrick, who played a practice round three weeks ago, figured it out remarkably quickly.
“I don’t know,” Merrick said when asked to explain his beginner’s luck. “I tried not to think about that.”
Now he’ll be thinking about making an encore.
“Can’t wait,” he said.
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EAGLE-EYED: Dustin Johnson has a lot of new crystal.
A spot in the Masters record book, too.
Johnson had eagles on 13 and 14 on Sunday, only the second player ever with back-to-back eagles at Augusta National. Dan Pohl did it in 1982, also on 13 and 14.
“I was struggling,” Johnson said. “It got me going a little bit because I was a little bit down on myself. I definitely wasn’t performing as well as I wanted to, and that definitely gave me a little boost, gave me some energy to finish it off.”
Players get a pair of crystal goblets for each eagle they make, and Johnson finished the week with four.
Johnson was 6 over for the day when he walked to the tee on the par-5 13th. He actually pushed his second shot, a 5-iron from 221 yards out, and it landed 20 feet behind the hole. But he made the putt for the first eagle.
He pulled his tee shot on the par-4 14th and landed in some pine straw under the trees down the left side. Johnson said he knew his second shot was good, but had no idea how good until he saw everyone behind the green jumping up and down.
“I knew I made a 2,” Johnson said. “That was pretty cool.”
For good measure, he added a birdie on 15.
Johnson made par his last three holes for a 73. He tied for 30th at 1-under.
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NO JACKET REQUIRED: The closest Trevor Immelman got to a green jacket this year was putting it on Angel Cabrera.
The defending champion had a 69 Sunday, but was too far back for it to do any good. He was done before the leaders even made the turn and wound up tied for 20th, 10 strokes behind Cabrera.
“Today is a different feeling,” Immelman said, his eyes watery. “I’m trying to go out there and shoot as low as I can, whereas last year I was just really concentrating on one shot and just trying to survive out there, really. It’s a lot different.”
And not nearly as enjoyable.
Immelman’s chances of winning a second green jacket all but disappeared with a 74 in the second round. He made the cut — right on the line — but he needed to have spectacular rounds the last two days to have a shot. Instead, he failed to gain any ground Saturday, making only a pair of birdies and giving them back with two bogeys on the last six holes.
Immelman spoke openly over the last year about his struggles to deal with the hype that comes with being Masters champion. Now that he’s not, he wishes he could have it back.
“I wish I could start over,” he said. “I feel like I’m a better player and a better person for what happened and the things that I learned. Hopefully, I can put all that to a good test for the rest of my career.”
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UP A TREE: Driver in hand, Padraig Harrington was all by himself as he walked back down the ninth fairway to the tee.
Lost? No, but the Irishman’s ball was.
Harrington’s hard-luck Masters continued Sunday when his drive on No. 9 got stuck in a tree, forcing him to take a penalty and trudge all the way back to the tee to hit again. Only when he got close to the tee box did he realize he didn’t have a tee — with his caddie and bag all the way back down the hill.
Fortunately for Harrington, Justin Rose was coming off the eighth green.
“I said, ‘Can I borrow a tee?’ He said, ‘As long as you don’t mind having the English flag on it,’ ” Harrington said.
Harrington hit another drive, then hitched a ride back up the hole with a marshal. He wound up with a triple-bogey 7 after three-putting.
Trees have caused Harrington all sorts of trouble this week, all but killing any chance the British Open and PGA Championship winner had for a “Paddy Slam.” On Saturday, he hit the same tree twice on the par-5 second hole and ended with a quadruple-bogey 9.
Then came the lost ball Sunday. And that wasn’t all. On 15, one of Harrington’s favorite holes at Augusta National, his ball hit a tree and ricocheted into the water.
“It’s good they all happened in one week,” he said.