Wrapup: Despite heartbreaker, it's good to be Badds


One agonizing inch.

That's how close 21-year-old Aaron Baddeley came to sending the Sony Open to a third playoff hole. It's how much surface Baddeley needed for another shot at his first PGA Tour victory in his first event as a card-carrying member. It's how close the upstart phenom came to making us throw down our remotes, shake our heads and declare: "This kid's for real."

As it stands, Baddeley's coming-out party will be better remembered for the guy who crashed it: Ernie Els.

Els drained a 55-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the second playoff hole Sunday to send the gallery into a frenzy, but the tournament wasn't over yet. Baddeley still had a 21-footer to force a third playoff hole. But his attempt stopped just short of the cup, making Els the first player to win the first two events of a season in 14 years.

Baddeley was just as impressive in defeat as Els was in victory. The two-time Australian Open winner and PGA Tour rookie held the second and third-round leads, and played with maturity far beyond his 21 years.

Badds (hey, I'm just reading the nickname off his hat) twice fell behind Els in Sunday's final round, and twice recovered to draw even. The second time was on the 18th hole, where he nonchalantly drained a 12-foot birdie putt to force the playoff.

"I thought the kid was going to go away, but he kept at me,'' Els said after the round. "Unlucky for Aaron, but he's going to win a lot of

He doesn't (yet) have a trophy to prove it, but the message is clear: This kid's for real.

Five observations
1. Tiger Woods is lucky Els isn't limiting his focus to the PGA Tour. After back-to-back wins to start the season, the Big Easy has a commanding lead on the money list and a $1.8 million head start on Woods.

However, that lead won't grow any larger before Woods makes his comeback from knee surgery in February. Els won't be returning to the PGA Tour until the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at the end of February, choosing to play three European Tour events in the next month (Singapore Masters, Heienken Classic and Johnnie Walker Classic).

The number of PGA Tour events Baddeley played in before the Sony Open, although this week's event was his first as a card-carrying member.

Who knows, maybe by the time March rolls around Els will be leading both the PGA Tour money list and the European Order of Merit.

Some facts and figures on another dominating performance from Els:

  • He began the 2003 season with eight straight rounds at 67 or better, and has played his first 146 holes at 49-under.

  • He led the field in driving distance for the second straight week, averaging almost 316 yards off the tee.

  • He's the first player to win his first two starts of the season since Tiger Woods did it in 2000 (Mercedes Championships and Pebble Beach Pro-Am).

    2. Highlighted by Baddeley, the 2003 rookie class didn't do poorly for itself in the first full-field event of the year. Over half of the 23 rookies in the Sony field made the cut. Some notable finishes:

  • After making the cut with a stroke to spare Friday, Andy Miller -- son of 1973 U.S. Open winner and TV analyst Johnny Miller -- stumbled to a 76 Saturday that included five bogeys in his last six holes. On Sunday, however, the 24-year-old played his first 12 holes at 8-under and shot a final-round 64. He made seven birdies and no eagles in his first 54 holes, but had six birdies and an eagle in the next 12.

  • John E. Morgan, a 25-year-old Englishman who finished 11th at Q-school after entering only to tune up his game, posted a bogey-free 68 in the first round. But it all came apart Friday. He followed three straight front-nine bogeys with a double en route to a 75 and an early exit.

  • Nationwide Tour graduate Tag Ridings was second among the rookies, tied for 27th. The 27-year-old Oklahoma native won $31,275 with his finish, about half of what he earned last year by winning the Nationwide's Permian Basin Open.

    3. Among the 66 players who didn't make Friday's cut at Waialae (even par) were 11 rookies and 10 of the 36 2002 winners who played in Kapalua last week.

    In the group just missing out at 1-over:

  • Fred Couples: Made three bogeys on his back nine Friday.

  • Rich Beem: Coming off a last-place finish at Kapalua, birdied his final hole of the second round to finish just off the cut line.

  • Matt Kuchar: A bogey on his final hole sent him packing.

  • Stewart Cink: Looked like Stewart was a cinch for the weekend after a first-round 68, but bogeyed five of his first 12 holes in the second round.

    Eighteen-year-old Ty Tryon also missed the cut in his first tournament of 2003. He began Thursday with back-to-back double bogeys, but played his final 34 holes at 2-under. He showed signs of brilliance Friday, playing one five-hole stretch at 6-under before fading again late and missing out by two strokes.

    4. Both Els and Baddeley had a hard time on the 17th green in Sunday's final round. Setting up a 25-foot birdie putt, Els declined to move Baddeley's mark, which was right in his line. Tracking toward the hole, Els' putt hit the mark and slowed down, stopping just short of the cup.

    ''That was an amateur mistake,'' Els said. ''I had to laugh at myself.''

    After picking up that same mark and getting ready for a 5-foot par putt, Baddeley backed off after the door to a portable toilet slammed shut. He quickly readdressed the ball, but missed the putt and made bogey.

    5. The European Tour had one of its closest finishes in a decade this week at the Dunhill Championship. Greg Foster had to work for his first European title, beating out five others in the tour's largest playoff since 1990.

    Foster bested Paul Lawrie, Bradford Vaughan, Trevor Immelman (winner of last week's South African Open), Doug McGuigan and Anders Hansen in the six-man playoff after all finished at 15-under 273 after 72 holes.

    Hansen and McGuigan were eliminated after the first playoff hole when the other four made birdie. Foster missed a 12-foot eagle putt that would have won him the tournament.

    On the second playoff hole, Foster made a winding 35-foot eagle putt to become the third straight first-time winner on the European Tour.

    Topics for the water cooler

  • What kind of statement was Baddeley trying to make when he decided to wear purple plaid pants in front of a national TV audience? Who is his fashion advisor, Jack Nicklaus, circa 1974? Baddeley also wore a hat that read "BADDS.COM", the young Australian's personal Web site.

  • Did Els have to use a long iron all week? He hit his driver so well and so consistently it seemed he left himself a wedge or short iron to almost every green.

  • Who was more impressive, Els in victory or Baddeley in defeat?

    What it means for ...
    Sergio Garcia: For the second straight week, Garcia did little to lead us to expect a breakout season from him. Sure, his 33rd-place finish wasn't bad, but it's not anything to get excited about for a player whose ultimate goal is to win both the PGA Tour and European money lists.

    Chris DiMarco: He heads into next week's title defense at the Phoenix Open on a high after finishing third in Honolulu.

    Retief Goosen: Tied for the lead after two rounds, Goosen made a triple bogey on the first hole Saturday en route to a 2-over 72 that dropped him into seventh place. On Sunday, he fired a 1-over 71 and dropped even further into a tie for 20th.

    Pat Perez: After struggling on the back nine Saturday, he bounced back with a 64 on Sunday that would have been a course record-tying 62 were it not for an early double bogey. The 20th place finish was just the start that Perez -- who at times had problems controlling his temper as a rookie last year -- needed to get his 2003 off on the right track.

    Stuart Appleby: While Baddeley was battling Els, fellow Australian Stuart Appleby posted the lowest round of the tournament with a final-round 7-under 63. His bogey-free Sunday performance catapulted him from 30th place to sixth.

    Jerry Kelly: The defending Sony champ was consistent all week. He made 13 birdies and four eagles, the biggest one coming on his final hole. Kelly's three on the finishing par 5 -- the only eagle on the 18th hole Sunday -- lifted him from out of the top 10 into fourth place.

    Coming up ...
    PGA Tour: Phoenix Open
    Phil Mickelson will make his 2003 debut at the TPC at Scottsdale next week, and already has some catching up to do. Mickelson was replaced by Els as No. 2 in the World Golf Rankings last week, but he'll be playing in front of his home crowd.

    European Tour: Singapore Masters
    Els will make his 2003 European Tour debut at the Singapore Masters, which was won last year by India's Arjun Atwal.

    David Lefort is ESPN.com's golf editor, and can be reached at david.m.lefort@espn3.com.