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By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PACIFIC PALISADES, California, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Charlie Beljan lost out in a two-way playoff for the Northern Trust Open on Sunday but he looked every inch the winner as he joyfully reflected on an astonishing week at Riviera Country Club.
A day after outscoring playing partners Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els before getting both men to sign his cap, he matched the best score in the final round with a four-under-par 67 after sinking an 18-foot birdie putt at the last.
Though he was edged out at the second extra hole by fellow American John Merrick, Beljan relished being in contention over the weekend on one of the most iconic courses on the PGA Tour.
"Life's good, life is good," the 28-year-old told reporters after his missed five-foot par putt at the driveable par-four 10th handed Merrick a maiden victory on the U.S. circuit.
"Today was only my fifth round at Riviera. Coming down the back nine, I didn't strike the ball that well, but God, I made every clutch putt that you would ever ask to make.
"And then to make that putt on 18 and hear the roar, that was really special. Obviously not the way I wanted to end it, but you know what, you win some, you lose some, and that's how it goes."
Beljan, who won the Children's Miracle Network Classic in November after suffering heart palpitations and shortness of breath during the second round, was delighted to be in the title hunt after missing the cut in his previous four PGA Tour starts.
"My game has been feeling good, I just haven't been scoring," he said of his form before this week at Riviera. "You know, after the drama that unfolded (with his win) last year, everything's finally starting to settle down.
"I've been able to get back to playing golf, which is what I did this week. And who knows what else will happen this year."
Beljan will never forget Saturday's third round when he outshone four-times major winners Mickelson (72) and Els (73) by shooting a 68 in front of huge galleries at Riviera.
"To be able to tee it up with Mr Els and Mr Mickelson and beat them... I had them sign my visor because those are two guys that I've looked up to my whole life," he grinned.
"And to go through that circus, hearing everybody scream for Phil, which is great, today was nothing. I love the crowds. I love the people. That's what I thrive on. I just wish I could get in that same mind-set on Thursday and Friday."
While Beljan waxed lyrically about most of his experiences at Riviera this week, he was not as generous when asked about the treacherous 315-yard 10th.
"I don't really have anything good to say about the 10th hole," he said, having missed the green long to the left during the playoff after using a driver off the tee. Merrick parred the hole after laying up with an iron.
"I've laid up, I've made birdie; I've laid up, I've made bogey. I've gone for it twice now and made two bogeys. I think it's a funky golf hole.
"I don't really know what the strategy is there, other than hoping you make par and that you move on. It's just a tough hole to have a playoff on. We might as well go and put a windmill out there and hit some putts." (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Peter Rutherford)