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 victory 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-par 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 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," said Merritt, an Iowa native who attended Spring Lake Park High School and also golfed at Winona State. "You don't remember what your name is. You're just reacting. That's all it was."
It came a day after he soared to the lead with a tournament-record 61 at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club. Merritt's closing 67 matched the best of the day on another sweltering afternoon. He finished at 18-under 266, also an event record.
"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."
With the victory, Merritt has a PGA Tour card for two more full seasons and will be in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational field at Firestone next week. He qualified for the PGA Championship later this month as well as next year's Masters, which will be the first two majors he has qualified for. He also won a $1,206,000 prize.
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. Both shot 69.
Fowler waited and gave Merritt a hug afterward.
"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."
For much of Sunday, the tournament seemed destined to become a duel between Merritt and Bill Haas, who tied with Merritt at 17 under through 10 holes. But Haas made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final seven holes.
Merritt said he made a slight change in the way he addressed the ball early in the week, and then a putting change Saturday was also critical. 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," he said.