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No L.A. miracle for Charlie Beljan

2/18/2013 - Golf

Charlie Beljan's quest for his second PGA Tour title was derailed by John Merrick in a playoff. Can Luke Donald ever break through for his first major championship? And a Stanford freshman flirted with the most precious score in golf.

Beljan almost scores a second miracle in the City of Angels

Even though Charlie Beljan was beaten by John Merrick on the second playoff hole of the Northern Trust Open on Sunday, the 28-year-old former New Mexico All-American stole the show at the historic Riviera Country Club outside of Los Angeles.

Beljan's swashbuckling, circa-1960s golf swing and excitable demeanor easily placed him in the spotlight on a crowded leaderboard. The Mesa, Ariz., native, who started the final round five shots off Bill Haas' third-round lead, got into the playoff with Merrick with a 18-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole to get to 11-under for the tournament.

But Beljan's hopes of a second PGA Tour win were wrecked when he hit his tee shot left on the driveable par-4 10th, the second playoff hole. Merrick took the safe route with an iron off the tee into the fairway.

Still it was a great week for Beljan, who was making his first career start at Riviera.

"You know, after the drama that unfolded last year, everything's finally starting to settle down and get back to playing golf, which is what I did this week," Beljan said. "And who knows what else will happen this year."

Beljan was a bit of novelty item when he barged into our lives in November with a dramatic win at Disney. The way he did it with the panic attacks, the overnight hospital stay and the furious race to keep his card was made for TV.

If he had descended into oblivion after that foray with greatness, the seven-time Gateway Tour winner still would have been remembered for years.

Now perhaps with this performance at Riviera, he has the confidence and the experience to become a consistent presence on leaderboards. Coming into this week, he had missed the cut in four of his five events on the season.

On Sunday he admitted to his struggles to find good form in the first two rounds of tournaments.

"Thursday and Friday for me suck," he said. "I think they are boring. I don't enjoy them. Saturday and Sunday, that's what we wheel and deal."

In just his second year on tour, Beljan is still a little starstruck. After playing with Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson on Saturday and soundly beating the two Hall of Famers, Beljan had them both sign his visor.

If he can keep us his good play, there might be players in the future who want him to do them the same honor.

Major doubts

In 2011, Luke Donald won the money title on both the PGA Tour and European Tour with four victories worldwide. As the No. 1 player in the world, the 35-year-old Englishman was at expected last year to take his first major championship.

But then McIlroy Mania happened and Donald had just one top-10 on the year in the majors, a tie for fifth at the Open Championship. Donald had an excellent season by most standards with a win and seven other top-10s, but his game didn't peak in the majors.

The former Northwestern star made his 2013 debut this week at the Northern Trust Open. In the offseason, he had sinus surgery and worked out some kinks in his golf swing.

At Riviera it looked like the extended time away was mostly good for his game. He had rounds of 69-66-70 before faltering on Sunday with a 75 that left him in a tie for 16th.

Donald can be counted on to always be near the leaderboard, but can he ever breakthrough for his first major? Seven top-10s in 38 majors appearances is a dismal record for a player of Donald's stature.

Obviously, he has many more years as one of the game's elite. He has time to win multiple majors. But there is no time like the present to take those steps toward golfing immortality.

Stanford Red

Mariah Stackhouse, a freshman on the Stanford women's golf team, had a 9-under 26 on the front nine of the Stanford Golf Course in the second round of the Peg Barnard Invitational. That front-nine 26 included two eagles and five birdies.

The 18-year-old two-time Georgia Women's Amateur champion flirted with a 59 but bogeys in the middle of the back nine hurt her chances of getting to golf's most precious score. Still she finished with a 10-under par 61, which was good enough for her first collegiate win.

This Riverdale, Ga. native, who won her state women's amateur in 2008 when she was just 14-years-old, qualified for the 2011 U.S. Women's Open at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, where she missed the cut with rounds of 79 and 84.

While she undoubtedly has a bright future in front of her, it will be difficult for her to have a better nine-hole performance than the one she had on Sunday at the Peg Barnard.

Prove It!

Ernie Els delivered my favorite quote of the week. Talking about the coming ban on belly putters, the four-time major champion tested the wisdom of the decision.

"If there were 90 percent of the guys using it, or if the guys using it were the top of the putting ranks, guys making more putts from 20 feet, more putts from 4 feet … give me something to go by to really make me believe that you have to ban it," said Els, who won the Open Championship in July using the controversial method.

High Five

Jeremiah Wooding, the 24-year-old WEB.COM player that I profiled earlier this week, became the first of the five players to receive the diversity exemption at the Northern Trust to make the cut in the tournament. The former UNLV player earned his way to the weekend with a second-round 66 after an opening 75.

Wooding had listed making the cut as his goal on his application to the event.

"We are a small group of minority golfers and that was one of my goals to be the first one," Wooding said on Friday. "Not to take anything away from the guys that had come before me, but this is an opportunity that is well appreciated by the five of us that have gotten an exemption, and to make the most of it is great."

In Sunday's final round, Wooding stumbled with a 3-over 74 to finish in a tie for 42nd. But he proved to himself with the experience at Riviera that he belongs on the big tour.

"My first ball on the fairway after the first hole, I'm walking down ‑‑ this is where I'm supposed to be," Wooding said after a third round 70. "Had to get over it a little bit obviously but this is where I'm supposed to be, this is home, and this is where I'm supposed to live and just trying to enjoy it."