Els wins battle with Baddeley
by DOUG FERGUSON, Associated Press
HONOLULU (AP) -- Ernie Els was caught in a thrilling playoff along the shores of Hawaii, a situation he knows all too well.
This time, he walked away as the improbable winner.
Els holed a 43-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole Sunday to win the Sony Open against 21-year-old Aaron Baddeley, making him the first player in 14 years to capture the first two PGA Tour events of the season.
``I was just trying to stay alive,'' Els said. ``All of a sudden, I win the tournament.''
Unlike last week in Kapalua -- an eight-stroke victory with a record score -- the Big Easy had to work hard for this one.
Els appeared to be a beaten man when he pulled his drive left of the 353-yard 10th green, leaving him only about 12 feet of putting surface and no shot. He pitched it through the green, and Baddeley had 20 feet for birdie.
``When it was 6 feet away, I was hoping I hit it hard enough,'' Els said. ``You can almost not believe it. That was quite something.''
For Baddeley, it was a crushing end to his debut as a PGA Tour member.
With steely nerves and a game that belies his 21 years, Baddeley holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to force a playoff, made another birdie from 6 feet to continue and was in much better shape than Els on No. 10, the second playoff hole.
He never dreamed Els would make it.
``It was a heck of a putt,'' Baddeley said. ``I'm disappointed because I had a chance to win. But I'm happy because I made Ernie work for it, and I didn't have my A-game today.''
Els closed with a 3-under 67, his eighth straight round in the 60s. Baddeley had a 69, as both finished at 16-under 264, two strokes ahead of Chris DiMarco (66).
Els knows how the kid must feel.
Three years ago at Kapalua, he was involved in another titanic battle against Tiger Woods. They matched birdies on the first playoff hole, and Woods ended on the second extra hole when he made a 40-foot birdie putt with 6 feet of break.
``I know exactly what it feels like,'' Els said. ``You come so close, you grind so hard. I know it's disappointing.''
Reminded of Woods' putt in the 2000 Mercedes Championships, Els smiled.
``As I said back then, the wheel keeps turning,'' he said.
Right now, everything is falling his way.
Els became the first player since Steve Jones in 1989 to win the first two events.
He earned $810,000, pushing him to $1.81 million on the money list. The 32-year-old South African might still be leading when he returns to the PGA Tour at the end of February for the Match Play Championship.
And while he beat a 21-year-old Tour rookie, Els knows better. This was as tough as any of his 12 Tour victories.
``I thought the kid was going to go away, but he kept at me,'' Els said. ``Unlucky for Aaron, but he's going to win a lot of titles.''
Baddeley first rose to prominence as an 18-year-old amateur, beating Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie in the '99 Australian Open.
He also has beaten Robert Allenby and Sergio Garcia, already proving to be a a player who thrives on big stages against big-time competition.
This was no different.
Els, the No. 2 player in the world, applied pressure from the start, but Baddeley never backed down. They slugged it out to the very end, a three-time major champion and a young Aussie with a game of someone far more experienced.
Els made up a two-stroke deficit after five holes at Waialae Country Club, and he had at least a share of the lead the rest of regulation. He appeared to take control only after an odd turn of events on the par-3 17th.
His 25-foot birdie putt was tracking toward the hole when it ran over Baddeley's coin mark about 3 feet from the hole, taking off enough speed to keep it from going in.
Els said he misread the putt, so he didn't bother to ask Baddeley to move his coin, which the Big Easy jokingly described as the size of a thick, British pound.
``That was an amateur mistake,'' Els said. ``I had to laugh at myself.''
Baddeley had not missed a putt inside 5 feet all week, and he stuck to his routine. Once he makes the read, he strides to the ball and quickly pulls the trigger. Only this time, the door of a portable toilet slammed as he stood over the putt, and he backed off.
He wound up catching the left lip to make bogey, one down with one hole to play.
Neither player could reach the par-5 18th in two, both players gave themselves a good look at birdie. A PGA Tour rules officials had to determine who was away, and it turned out to be Els by 7 inches.
He left it short, and the brazen Aussie poured in his putt to force the playoff. They both made birdie on the 18th in the playoff, setting up the dramatic finish.
DIVOTS: Andy Miller showed flashes of his dad in the final round. The 23-year-old son of Johnny Miller was knocking down flags and went out in 6-under 29. Birdies on the 11th and 12th put him 8-under with six holes to play. ``A couple of more birdies and I'm right there at 59,'' he said. ``Of course, as soon as I thought that I bogeyed the next two.'' He finished at 64, not a bad way to kick off his rookie season. ``I had a lot going right today,'' he said. ``You never complain with a 64.'' ... Hula dancers dressed in skirts and coconuts gave players a lei when they finished their final round. J.L. Lewis shot 40 on the back nine and declined his. ... Michelle Wie, the 13-year-old who shot 73 in Monday qualifying, followed the final group Sunday. Asked about the purple plaid pants worn by Aaron Baddeley, she said, ``I have a pair like that. I just don't wear them when I play golf.''