Baddeley Finally Rising - Again
During the planning stages of last years event, I was asked to do some minor consulting with the host organization responsible for the operation of the tournament. One of the things we discussed was how to handle the two sponsors exemptions which they controlled. Of the hundreds of requests they received, my thought was that Aaron Baddeley was probably the biggest name and would probably bring out the most fans.
At the time, the Diamondbacks were in the middle of their championship run in baseball, so our tournaments local media attention lacked somewhat. However, the valleys golf fans proved themselves savvy enough to know a good deal when they saw one and showed up in respectable numbers.
I remember when my producer dispatched me to go cover Baddeleys group. I was walking amongst a few in the gallery when this one gentleman approached me and said, 'I cant believe there isnt more gallery out here.' Well, it was late in the day and baseball was on TV, but there was a decent size gallery following Baddeley. The man continued, 'For $5 a day, I get a front row view of Aaron Baddeley. This is the greatest bargain ever for a golf fan.'
In time I believe the astute golf observer will be able to tell that story to a more disbelieving audience. But the point was well taken; Aaron Baddeley has about as much potential as anyone ever to tee up the golf ball in a Buy.Com Tour event. At the ripe old age of 21, Baddeley has a relatively long and proven resume. At 18 years old, he won the Australian Open as an amateur. The next year, he successfully defended - this time as a professional. Having already beaten many of the best players in the world, Baddeley opted to bypass the collegiate route and pursue his dream of following in his idols footsteps. Baddeley would someday like to play as many years in America as Greg Norman has, and he has designs on a couple of majors as well.
Pretty lofty talk for a 21-year-old, but when you talk to his peers, or should I say his competitors, they point to Aaron as the most talented of the lot. A day walking up and down the range asking about Baddeley netted such descriptions as 'a nearly perfect golf swing', and 'enough talent to win multiple majors'. Three-time Buy.Com Tour winner and typical class clown John Maginnes single-handedly voted him 'Most Likely to Succeed.'
The Buy.Com tour has been pretty fortunate through the years to see some amazing players come through the ranks. In 1990 it was Jeff Maggert and John Daly, in 1991 it was Tom Lehman, and the following years produced such current stars as David Duval, Ernie Els, Stuart Cink, and the list goes on and on. In time, and in my opinion, the tour will be able to look back at 2002 at feel fortunate to count Baddeley as one of its alums.
Last week at the Bank of America Monterey Peninsula Classic, a 25-year-old rookie stole the show by leading wire-to-wire and transcended his 112th position on the money list to capture the title. Roland Thatcher's play was awesome, but he even admitted he was feeling the pressure of the moment, and of the guy who was trying to catch him. Thatcher knew he was being chased by one of the best.
Baddeley never dropped enough putts to apply enough pressure, but he hung around all day and headed into the last hole two shots back and needing an eagle to have a chance. After Thatcher had laid up, Baddeley hit a laser-like missile of a 3-iron. It was just the kind of shot that champions hit when needed. I think it was my colleague Kay Cockerill who said, 'Baddeley has that ability to sense the moment.'
She was referring to the intangibles, those champion traits that usually cant be taught. In other sports its referred to as that desire to want the last shot. And when you combine world-class physical tools with the character of a champion, a relatively lethal talent results.
Aaron Baddeley moved up to 17th on the money list and is a great bet to finish the year in the top 15 and graduate directly to the PGA Tour for next year. As with most of the great ones to come through this tour, Baddeleys stay is but a sojourn. We havent gotten to enjoy him for too long on the Buy.Com Tour, but odds are well be seeing plenty of him on golfs grandest stage.
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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.
The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.
It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.
"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."
Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.
Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.
"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."
Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder
After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.
La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.
"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."
Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.
The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.
"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."