Els, Baddeley shine in Sony Open spotlight


HONOLULU -- What an amazing finish to the first full-field event of the season. Ernie Els and Aaron Baddeley put on gutsy performances Sunday at the Sony Open, and their duel wasn't decided until a remarkable turn of events on the second extra hole.

Els made a 55-foot putt from the fringe to win it, but that dramatic conclusion wouldn't have been possible if not for a big putt by Baddeley on the 18th hole. After Els missed a 12-foot birdie putt that would have won the tournament, Baddeley hit a 12-footer of his own to force the playoff.

On the second playoff hole -- the short 353-yard par-4 10th -- Els pulled it left off the tee and ended up in a bad spot about pin high and 40 yards left of the green. Baddeley hit a beautiful drive that just caught the left greenside bunker.

Els made a pretty good shot from there just to get it on the back edge of the green, then made his remarkable putt. Baddeley managed an average bunker shot, but then left his 21-footer about a half-inch short.

Els was again on top of his game this week, hitting more greens than anyone else on the narrow Waialae setup and continuing to take advantage of the par 5s. The way Els has played the last two weeks -- becoming the first player to win the season's first two events since Steve Jones in 1989 -- he's established himself as one of the top two players in the world. But how close is he to No. 1?

Els is the one guy I think can put pressure on Tiger Woods. He admitted earlier in the week that Woods used to affect him psychologically, but he thinks he's over that. He has the confidence now to stand toe-to-toe with him and thinks he can beat him.

We also saw the beginning of a young superstar's career this week. The 21-year-old Baddeley is no fluke, he's a wonderful player who has a very bright future. Staring down the world's second-ranked player on the final day of a tournament has to do a lot for his confidence. Even though he didn't play as well Sunday as he would have liked, he showed a lot of courage. I wouldn't be surprised if he won a couple tournaments this year.

His play also demonstrates part of what's good about the PGA Tour. There's a good crop of young players -- Baddeley, Charles Howell III, David Gossett and Jonathan Byrd, to name a few -- who are going to contend for years to come.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North serves as an analyst for ESPN, and followed Ernie Els and Aaron Baddeley around Waialae in the Sunday's final group.