Written under the nom de plume, M.L. Gneier
I have enjoyed watching Aaron Baddeley since he first hit the PGA Tour in 2003. His swing is quick, short and purposeful and reminds me of Nick Price. On the greens, he leaves Nicky behind with a superb putting stroke. To this day I am amazed at just how quickly Baddeley pulls the trigger on putts once he is over the ball. But, as much as I enjoy his play, Aaron has yet to fully exorcise three golfing ghosts from his memory.
The first occurred with the slamming of a Porta-Potty door in the middle of his back-stroke while dueling it out with Ernie Els at the 2003 Sony Open. It was a really lousy break and Baddeley never fully recovered, losing to Els in a playoff. Some players would have been pleased with the second place check and moved on but the loss seemed to knocked Baddeley slightly off course for the next year or so.
The next haunting came at the 2007 US Open when he was famously paired with Tiger Woods in the final round. Now, Woods has done plenty of haunting all by himself but adding a dose of classic US Open pressure had Baddeley looking ashen on the first tee and he didn't look much better after shooting 80.
Never let it be said that Aaron Baddeley is anything less than a superb player. He is long enough, good enough with his irons and has a nifty short game to complement his oft' magic putter. But, during his third round match against Tiger Woods Baddeley was again visited by a ghost that he must expel, and soon.
From the 5th hole on Baddeley flat outplayed Woods. And, this was not a Tiger Woods who was wild off the tee or lipping out putt and after putt. This was a Tiger Woods who was as on his game as I have seen of late. Baddeley had makable putts that would have won him the match on the 18th and 19th holes. He hit great putts both times, but it sometimes takes more than great putt to find the bottom of the hole. This most recent ghost may have been the very same one to haunt Steve Scott when he had a chance to finish Woods in the 1996 US Amateur.
The lesson is that you had better beat Woods in regulation. Back in 1997 when Tom Lehmann became one of Wood's first professional match play, extra holes victims at the Mercedes Championships Lehmann said after the match that there was a sense of inevitability about Woods eventually slamming the door with an amazing shot.
Aaron Baddeley was still in high school when Woods kick-in tee shot kicked Lehmann into second place, but you know he was paying attention. And, he was paying attention during the Accenture.
Baddeley doesn't need to beat Woods head to head to get rid of those ghosts. They will purge themselves from his being the very second that he wins something big, a major, and elite field event, whatever. Until then, you'll see those ghosts sitting on his shoulder whispering doubts that he shouldn't be hearing at this stage of his career.
I think he's going to do it. Aaron Baddeley will win a big one and he'll do it this year. There will come a day when the lessons of today's painful loss become a source of resolve that makes him able to win that kind of event. Here's hoping that day comes soon.