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Rocket Mortgage Classic

Ace puts Troy Merritt on track in Detroit for first win in three years

July 03, 2021

Troy Merritt reacts with his caddie Wayne Birch to a hole-in-one on the 11th green during the third round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Gregory Shamus

DETROIT — Troy Merritt didn’t lose his mind after his first career hole-in-one on the PGA Tour, even if some around him—especially some young fans standing beside the 11th tee box—were having trouble containing their excitement.

But what he did lose was momentum. His ace on the 218-yard par-3 11th hole at Detroit Golf Club gave him a brief three-shot lead in the Rocket Mortgage Classic. But he bogeyed the very next hole and didn’t make another birdie the remainder of the round after making four of them in his first seven holes.

He settled for a five-under 67 and a share of the lead through 54 holes with Joaquin Niemann of Chile. Niemann, the second-round co-leader, had a 68, and the two were tied at 14-under 202 while nine other players are within two strokes.

Niemann, by the way, has yet to make a bogey in the tournament, which probably means he’ll make one on the first hole on Sunday. The last player to submit a clean card in all four rounds and win was J.T. Poston at the 2019 Wyndham Championship.

But back to Merritt, ranked 129th in the world, who is seeking his third tour title, his last coming at the 2018 Barbasol Championship opposite the Open Championship. The Boise, Idaho, resident dismissed the idea that he lost focus after his one-hop hole-in-one.

“We had time to settle down before the next tee shot,” said Merritt, who missed his drive into the right rough at the par-4 12th and couldn’t get up and down after coming up well short of the green on his approach. “I'm not going to say that my adrenaline was pumping or that I was feeling anything, you know, off about my driver swing on 12. I just hit a poor shot. And I hit a poor one on 13, but then got it right back in the groove until that one on 18 that I pulled left.”

Troy Merritt lines up a putt on the 14th green during the third round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Gregory Shamus

Merritt, 35, nearly had his first ace six holes earlier when his tee shot into the par-3 fifth hole stopped eight inches short of the hole.

He may have gotten his swing under control coming home, but he created only one birdie look under 30 feet on the last six holes. He scored mere pars at both par 5s, the 14th and 17th. That allowed Niemann to catch up and hold a share of the lead for the second day in a row.

Nevertheless, there’s still the excitement of going for another victory. Since he found a little something in his putting and finished T-8 at the Valspar Championship, Merritt has missed just one cut and added two more top-10s.

Playing with confidence is important. He knows that he can’t let his game stall as it did late Saturday.

"There's going to be quite a few birdies tomorrow, and we've got to make them to keep pace and hopefully slightly ahead of everybody,” he said. “The mindset will be find that fairway first, give ourselves as many looks as we can and keep all the squares off the card.”