PGA: SONY OPEN

Young Aussie can't best Els


Aaron Baddeley of Australia, drops to his knees after missing a putt to lose on the second hole of a playoff to Ernie Els at the Sony Open in Honolulu, Sunday.

AP Photo/Eric Risberg
Published: Monday, January 20, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 20, 2003 at 12:08 a.m.

HONOLULU - In a thrilling battle that ended with an unlikely birdie, Ernie Els outlasted 21-year-old Aaron Baddeley in a playoff Sunday to win the Sony Open and become the first player in 14 years to win the first two PGA Tour events of the season.

Unlike last week at Kapalua, the Big Easy had to work hard for this one.

He appeared to be a beaten man when he missed the 353-yard 10th green to the left and chipped through the green, some 55 feet from the hole.

Instead, Els rammed home the putt - just like Tiger Woods did to him three years ago at Kapalua - and won on the second playoff hole when the young Aussie's 20-foot birdie putt hung on the lip.

Els closed with a 3-under 67, while Baddeley had a 69 as both finished at 16-under 264.

``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.''

He gave himself every chance at winning the Sony Open.

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.

It was a stunning conclusion, and a great sendoff for Els.

He earned $810,000, pushing him to $1.9 million on the money list. Els might still be there when he returns to the PGA Tour for the Match Play Championship at the end of February.

Steve Jones in 1989 was the last player to win the opening two events on tour.

The last time Els was in a playoff in Hawaii, he and Woods matched eagles on the 18th hole in regulation, birdies on the 18th hole in the playoff and Woods finally put him away with a 40-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole at the Mercedes.

Woods is still recovering from knee surgery, but he could have appreciated this one.

The supporting role was played by Baddeley, who first rose to prominence as an 18-year-old amateur who beat Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie in the '99 Australian Open.

Baddeley 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.

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.

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 returned to No. 18, both hitting into the same bunker. Baddeley hit a pitch over a greenside bunker to 6 feet and made the putt, forcing Els to make a knee-knocking 5-foot birdie putt to keep going.

Chris DiMarco had a 66 and finished third, while defending champion Jerry Kelly eagled the final hole for a 65 to tie for fourth with Allenby (66).

Stuart Appleby had a 7-under 63, the best score of the week, to finish sixth.

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