GAINESVILLE, Va. — Troy Merritt walked to the final tee with a three-shot lead and slapped hands with fans on both sides of the ropes, knowing he had all but wrapped up his first PGA Tour title and wanting to show his appreciation for the fans cheering him on.
Not a bad turnaround for a player who had missed five cuts in a row coming into the Quicken Loans National.
Merritt shot a 4-under 67 on Sunday and finished his first career victory in 96 starts with a flourish, rolling in a 34-foot putt for birdie on the 72nd hole. After the putt fell, the 29-year-old former Boise State player raised his hands, looked toward the crowd and shrugged his shoulders.
"It's amazing how you can dream of winning a golf tournament your entire life and you've got it scripted and when it happens, you're not thinking," he said. "You don't remember what your name is. You're just reacting. That's all it was."
Merritt attended Sptring Lake Park High School just nother of Minneapolis, where hw finished second in the state 2A golf tournament and played guard on a basketball team that won a trip to the state tournament in 2004, his senior year. He played golf for Winona State before finishing his career at Division I Boise State.
(Merritt's career takes off at Boise State Patrick Reusse writes in 2008.)
The victory came a day after Merritt soared to the lead with a tournament-record 61 at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, and his closing 67 matched the best of the day on another sweltering afternoon. He finished at 18-under 266, also an event record, and became the 10th first-time winner on the PGA Tour this season.
"It was really nice coming down that final fairway with a two-shot lead," he said. "Not feeling very much stress, just trying to make as good of a golf swing as I could and, as you saw, it was nice to have only one putt."
Rickie Fowler, who started the day one shot off the lead, also made a birdie on the final hole to claim second place at 15 under, and David Lingmerth was third, but both had up-and-down rounds. Fowler shot a 69 that featured seven birdies and five bogeys, and Lingmerth's 69 included five birdies and three bogeys.
Fowler waited and gave Merritt a hug after his final putt dropped.
"He went out there and earned it today," Fowler said. "He played some great golf. ... The score that he put up being in the lead and what he did yesterday, to back it up with a solid round of golf — it's what you've got to do to win."
Merritt, who appeared to be walking in place as he set up for each shot, alternately tapping his feet to get them in exactly the right position, said he made a slight change in the way he addressed the ball early in the week, and then a putting change made Saturday were critical to his victory. His composure helped, too, as he lost the lead only briefly on the final day and stumbled just once, with a three-putt bogey at the par-4 12th, the most difficult hole on the course. He made five birdies.
"That's why I'm here. We found two little fixes," Merrill said.
For much of the day, the tournament seemed destined to become a duel between Merritt and Bill Haas, who had six birdies in his first 10 holes and got to 17 under, tied with Merritt and three clear of the rest of the field. But Haas made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final seven holes, leaving Merritt in position to win it by just making pars.
He did more than that, also knocking an 8-iron to 3 feet on the par-3 16th and making the putt.
It helped that all the expected challengers faltered.
Fowler, one shot back at the start, had three bogeys on the front nine.
Lingmerth, who once shared the lead with Haas and Merritt at 15 under, followed with a bad bogey at the par-5 eighth, the first of three bogeys over the closing 10 holes that kept him from making a move.
Haas wound up with a 70 and shared fourth at 12 under with defending champion Justin Rose and four others.
Merritt never looked as though the stage was too much.
He opened with a birdie to take sole possession of the lead, and made two more to turn at 3 under. His bogey at the difficult 12th dropped him into a tie with Haas at 16 under, but Haas then crumbled.
Tiger Woods made a run at contention with birdies on five of his first 10 holes to get to 10 under, but with a huge crowd following and shouting encouragement, he missed a 3-foot putt at No. 11, the first of three bogeys in four holes.
His bogey on the 12th came despite one of the best shots of the tournament. After hitting his drive well right and into a hazard, he took a drop and then hit a blind 5-wood to the back fringe of the green, about 15 feet from the cup.
Woods finished with a 68 to tie for 18th at 8 under.
Woods rose from No. 195 to No. 185 in the FedEx Cup rankings and has just three weeks left to climb into the top 125 and qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, but said that that is not his focus.
"I've got years ahead of me. That's how I look at it," he said.
Kevin Chappell, who shared the overnight lead, shot a 77 to finish in the tie for 18th at 8 under.