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Baddeley happy after reaching playoff

Aaron Baddeley has been hurt but far from discouraged by the criticism that has been thrown his way in his two-year pursuit of full playing rights on the US PGA Tour. Yesterday, even in defeat, he felt vindicated.

Baddeley, still a couple of months short of his 22nd birthday, stepped out with world No. 2 Ernie Els in the final round of the Hawaiian Open and kept his nerve right through it and into a sudden-death playoff. It took a superb birdie putt by the South African to beat him.

"At the moment I'm disappointed, because I had a chance to win, but I'm happy because I made Ernie work for it (even though) I didn't have my A game today," the Victorian said.

"To take on Ernie, the second-best player in the world, and take him to a playoff and nearly beat him gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the year."

Baddeley, who started the final round at Honolulu's Waialae course two strokes ahead of Els, shot a one-under-par 69 to Els' 67 for a 72-hole total of 264, 16 under.

After both players had birdied the first extra hole, Els won at the second when he sank a 15-metre birdie bomb, and Baddeley left his six-metre putt a roll short.

"I don't think he was expecting to hole that putt; I wasn't expecting it," Baddeley said. "I hit a good putt but I just didn't hit it quite hard enough."

Els did not expect to make the putt, but he had had a similar putt earlier in the day and knew the line. "When I got over the putt for some reason I didn't feel nervous. I was trying to make the putt but I could put 100 balls down there and not make another one," he said.

It was Baddeley's 22nd tournament on the US tour, as an amateur or professional, and his first as a full member. After it, he said, "Ernie gave me a big smile and wrapped his arms around me and said, 'Good play today, man. You've got an unbelievable future.' "

Els, whose victory was his ninth in the past 13 months, said: "I thought the kid was going to go away, but he kept at me. Unlucky for Aaron (today), but he's going to win a lot of titles."

The consolations for Baddeley include a cheque for $468,000 and the stunning endorsement of his self-belief.

"I'm really excited to know that I contended today, had a chance to win. I can compete out here and I felt comfortable in the position I was in. I'm looking forward to . . . being in contention again, hopefully, and maybe winning once, perhaps twice, this year," he said.

Only a bogey at the 17th by Peter Lonard denied Australia four players in the top 10. Robert Allenby tied for fourth with a closing 66 and Stuart Appleby, shooting the best round of the day, a seven-under-par 63, was sixth. Lonard tied for 12th.

Despite his own great expectations, Baddeley had achieved little internationally since winning the Australian Open as an 18-year-old amateur at Royal Sydney in 1999 and then successfully defending his title as a professional in 2000.

Playing overseas by invitation as he pursued his American obsession, there was a litany of missed cuts and growing criticism from respected observers.

Baddeley sacked his golfing coach, Victorian Dale Lynch, in favour of the high-profile American-based Englishman David Leadbetter. His mate, and only caddie as an amateur, Dion Kipping also received his marching orders.

"I did things my way, the way myself, Paul (his manager Paul Galli) and 'Lead' thought what we believed was right. I stuck at it, kept believing in what I was doing and working hard, and it has paid off, and will continue to pay off," Baddeley said.

Baddeley had not played with Els before, and before hitting off they had lunch together. Was there any pre-match sledging? "Not really," Baddeley said. "I did ask him how on earth the South African cricket team could be rated No. 1 in Test cricket and he just smiled and gave a big fist pump."


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