Merriman holds nerve
By ADAM HICKS
AS the field crumbled under final- round pressure, David Merriman held his nerve to win the MediDrain Australian PGA Senior Championship at the Byron Bay Golf Club yesterday.
Proving that consistency is everything in golf, the former Bonnie Doon club professional shot rounds of 72, 72 and 71 to finish one under and claim the $11,115 winner's purse his first tournament victory as a senior.
Merriman started the day at even par, thinking he was out of contention with Craig Owen seven shots in front of him after blistering rounds of 69 and 68.
But the New Zealander struggled playing in the last group, shooting five over on the front nine.
"Everything went wrong," he said.
It got worse over the back nine as Owen dropped another three shots to slip to equal second with Garry Merrick at one over for the tournament.
A gallery of 200 watched the leaders play their final rounds, but Merriman went almost unnoticed until the last hole.
"I had no idea I was in the lead until someone told me before I teed off on the 18th," Merriman said.
"My initial thought was 'that's great if it's true' but I rationalised and said there's probably someone out there with a three-under that they haven't recorded yet.
"Otherwise, hitting off on the last hole knowing you're the leader is pretty daunting. You have to do what you can to take the pressure off."
Whatever he did, it worked.
He knocked in a three-metre birdie putt to take him two strokes clear with just two groups left on the course.
Earlier in the round, he chipped in for a birdie on the 10th and hit a three-metre putt for par on the 17th.
"I was just trying to grind out a good top-five finish," he said.
"I'm very surprised by the win considering I teed off seven behind.
"I didn't play flash. I was consistent and steady; it's part of my game.
"I only attack on a golf course if I'm playing well. I was a bit rusty over the first two rounds and I was just trying to grind it out."
The win caps a great year for Merriman, who quit his club job in May to join the European Seniors circuit.
It also follows his controversial second place finish to Wayne Grady in the Australian Senior Open at Concord Golf Club in November.
Merriman lost by one stroke after incurring a two-stroke penalty because his caddie and partner Kelsey raked a bunker.
"You just have to take it on the chin," he said.
"Kelsey said all the right things today to keep me motivated and concentrating. She has done a marvellous job all year and that week (at Concord) too."
Crowd favourite Rodger Davis shot a five-over 77 for the day to finish equal fifth at three over.