Badds Breaks Winless Drought
The Northern Trust Open was almost the anti-Daytona 500. Instead of a young unknown shocking the world, a beloved fiftysomething battling the pains of advancing age nearly turned back time, but a sympathetic crowd at Riviera Country Club couldn’t quite drag Freddie Couples’ aching back across the finish line. Instead, a 29-year-old onetime phenom finally delivered on some of the promise that accompanied his arrival on the golf scene.
Aaron Baddeley, a hardened veteran at 29, recaptured some of the old magic that had him in the winner’s circle as a 24-year-old wunderkind. Badds’ turn-back-the-clock performance saw a return to an old swing and old results, as the Aussie earned the third win of his career but the first since 2007, back when his obvious talent seemed to portend a stellar career.
Abandoning the trendy stack-and-tilt swing method a couple of years ago, Baddeley went back to basics, and the change finally paid off in the form of an on-course comfort level that had been missing.
“As tough as the last two years were, I knew what I was working towards,” Baddeley said. “Even though I got frustrated at times and discouraged at times, I knew my end goal, so I was able to be patient. That was the key. I had to be patient because I knew my game has been there for a while, I just haven’t got the scores on the board.”
Couples stirred the crowd with birdies on his first three holes to reclaim the lead from Baddeley, but the sentimental favorite couldn’t keep it going. Nor could another member of golf’s old guard, Vijay Singh, who finished second, two shots back.
“Well, I thought Freddie was going to be tough today because definitely winning is a skill, and Freddie has been winning quite often recently,” Baddeley said of the Champions Tour superstar. “When he got off to a good start, I was like, Freddie looks like he's going to have one of those days where he's going to play great.
“I was still just trying to focus on my game and just try to do what I needed to do. … I was still right there, I was still only one back. It wasn’t like I was three back. For me it was just trying to keep doing what I was doing.
“Everybody was yelling out ‘Freddie, Freddie, Freddie.’ I knew he was going to be the fan favorite, and I mean, no reason why he shouldn’t be. He’s been such a great player over the years, and I mean, the fans just love him.”
So is Baddeley ready to recapture some of the love that greeted him when he seemingly filled the role of golf’s Next Big Thing? Maybe. And an invitation to Augusta presents another golden opportunity.
“I think I’m in a different situation I feel like now with my game,” he said. “In ’06 with Hilton Head (where he earned his first win), I was in the building stage with the stack & tilt, and then ’07 I had a good year after winning FBR. But I feel like my game is at a different level where I’m not trying to keep working on stuff. Like right now I'm just sort of maintaining the foundation, and then I’m really just trying to go out there and play golf.”
Couples’ final round 73 left him with a T7, five shots behind Baddeley. Not the result he wanted, but not bad for a 51-year-old with a balky back.
“Well, I’m disappointed but Aaron played very, very well,” Couples said. “It was cold and it wasn’t easy. There were a few good scores, but I didn’t think it was very easy out there. I certainly wanted to par the last hole. That's disappointing. But as far as the way I played, I played great. Today was — like I say, if I could have just hit a couple more shots and finished even in third place, that would have been phenomenal, but it wasn’t, and I’m pretty happy with the way I played. But I was trying to win.”
So was the solid week a sign that Couples’ notorious back was suddenly cooperating?
“No, it feels terrible. I feel like if I was playing another course this week, another tournament, there’s no way I would have played this well. This is just my favorite course. Literally if you watched me today I slapped it around and shot 73, and I’m highly disappointed. There were a lot of 73s out there today, but this is a great course for me.”