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Baddeley relaxed about Australian Open defence

He turned pro only about a month ago, but Aaron Baddeley is not worried in the least.

``I'm fairly relaxed. I am just trying to approach this as another golf tournament,'' he said. ``I guess there'll be more people watching what I do this year and focusing on what scores I shoot.''

The 19-year-old Aussie is the defending champion at the Australian Open, which begins Thursday. To win back-to-back titles he'll have to beat the likes of Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Mark O'Meara.

Baddeley burst on the international scene last November at Royal Sydney, becoming the first amateur in three decades to win the Australian Open.

He missed out on the prize money because of his amateur status but earned invitations to the Masters and the U.S. Open, where he practiced and played alongside Tiger Woods.

Baddeley failed to make the cut at those tournaments and others in the United States. But his confidence was restored when he made the cut in his professional debut two weeks ago at the Taiheiyo Masters in Japan.

``I think if I can keep playing well and keep it in play I have a good chance of winning back to back,'' he said.

With a shortage of international stars in the field, Baddeley has emerged as a serious contender at Kingston Heath. But Norman is eyeing a sixth Australian Open title, and Robert Allenby cannot be discounted.

Allenby has two wins on the U.S. tour this year, including the Western Open, where he beat a strong field that featured Woods. He says he is especially confident this week.

``There are not too many guys this year who have beaten Tiger,'' he said. ``I guess I could say that I am privileged.''

Allenby won the Australian Open in 1994 and was a runner-up in 1991.

Faldo, a winner of six majors, and O'Meara, who has Masters and British Open titles, admit they're nowhere near their prime but are hoping for turnaround Down Under.

Norman hasn't won a title since his signature event, the Greg Norman International, in Sydney in 1998. Since then, he's had surgery on a shoulder and hip and missed the cut in four majors.

Norman won the last Australian Open played at Kingston Heath. He says the course has been improved since his title there in 1995. Now he's hoping his game is ready.

``I'm always confident going into a tournament,'' he said. ``With the flow of my game lately I think I'm just a little more excited about playing.''


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