By Ron Patey

Troy Merritt finished scorching the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club with a long birdie putt on the final hole. The Iowa native accepted the trophy, locking down spots in several big-time tournaments and ensuring himself fewer scheduling issues over the next couple of years. Merritt backed up a scintillating 10-under (61) on Saturday with a stellar 4-under (67) on Sunday to blow past the field at the Quicken Loans National and claim his first PGA Tour title.

The victory means he’s exempt through the 2016-2017 campaign, and booked into the field at this week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational and next week’s PGA Championship. He also gets to compete in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, as well as the Masters and the Players tournaments. That’s quite a turnaround. With five consecutive missed cuts, Merritt had been in danger of losing his card.

While Merritt took his game to a higher level, the Iowan’s third-round co-leader and playing partner, Kevin Chappell, scratched five bogeys and two double bogeys onto his scorecard and faded to a T18 finish. Joining Chappell at T18 was Tiger Woods who, despite a shaky third round 74, showed signs he’s close to becoming an event-to-event factor again. Woods displayed solid distance control with his irons, for the most part. He also drained several tricky putts during the first, second and fourth rounds, for which he shot 68, 66 and 68.

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Next On The Tee: World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational

Jordan Spieth returns from a two-week break following his spirited near-miss at a third consecutive major at the Open Championship. Although that heady achievement is no longer possible, the now 22-year-old Texan is in position, with a win in Akron, to vault over the injured Rory McIlroy into first place in the world rankings.

Open Champion Zach Johnson arrives at the Firestone Country Club on a torrid streak of outstanding finishes. Before winning the Open in a four-hole playoff, Johnson recorded a T3 at the John Deere Classic and a solo sixth in the Travelers Championship.

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The most recent WGC-Bridgestone Invitational winner in the field is 2012 champ Keegan Bradley of the United States. Last year’s victor, Rory McIlroy, is out with that soccer injury. Tiger Woods, who won in 2013 and is an eight-time title holder, failed to qualify due to his many early-season woes.

Jason Day of Australia joins Spieth and Johnson as heavy favorites. Day won the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey a week after his T4 placing on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Firestone Country Club (South) plays 7,400 yards long and is a par 70.

Favorites: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler

Players To Watch: Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Sergio Garcia

Ron Patey covered the golf industry for 21 years as a special sections editor with Sun Media. During the past five years, Patey has been a golf writer for Examiner.com.