A Tale of Two Deserts


There are big sandy stages. And there are Bigger Sandy Stages.
Aaron Baddeley missed the cut at the FBR Open in 2003. And 2005. And 2006. And he tied for 49th there in 2004.
He won there Sunday.
Aaron Baddeley
Aaron Baddeley reacts to his second PGA TOUR victory. (WireImage)
So much for horses for courses (or should that be camels for oases?) Anyway, go figure. And while youre at it, riddle me this: When will the real Phil Mickelson arrive?
In Arizona last week, Mickelson missed the cut. Its not the start that I want to the year, said Mickelson, who hasnt scored a top-10 since coughing up the U.S. Open like it was a fur ball last June at Winged Foot.
For his part, Baddeley putted like Crenshaw in his prime at the TPC of Scottsdale (nine one-putts in a row Thursday). And he drove it like Norman in his prime (long and straight).
Yet none of his heroics -- Sunday birdies on 15, 16 and 17 -- or Jeff Quinneys bitterly-disappointing late Sunday failings -- bogeys on 17 and 18 -- or the cauldron of noise that is the par 3 16th, measured up to what the big boys delivered in another desert halfway across the world.
The PGA TOUR is still the major leagues of golf. Week in and week out it is must see TV. Know anybody who belongs to a fantasy golf league for the European Tour?
But the European Tour, at least for one week, turned out to be more compelling drama probably because Tiger dueled Ernie and both lost when Henrik Stenson, the best underappreciated player in the world, got up and down on the 72nd hole to capture first prize.
If youre a European Tour regular on Golf Channel, you know what Im referencing here. There was a 15-minute period in the middle of Sundays back nine at Dubai that was as dramatic as it gets. First, Woods, called The Tiger by Euro anchor Renton Laidlaw, fatted a 3-wood on the 10th hole en route to a bogey. Then on 11, he mis-hit a short chip shot that responded by dribbling into a greenside bunker. Another bogey.
I have now, said Laidlaws sidekick, Warren Humphreys, seen absolutely everything.
Moments later, Els, valiantly chasing Stenson despite going 3 over par for the day early in his final round, holed a bunker shot on 14 for a birdie. AIR-knee-else, Laidlaw exclaimed.
Stenson responded with a lengthy birdie putt on the same hole to regain sole possession of the lead. And soon after that here was The Tiger chipping in on the 15th hole for his third straight birdie.
It was all wonderful stuff. And it made Stenson, who like Baddeley, drives it long and straight and putts pretty well, too, a player to watch in the run-up to the Masters Tournament in April, where he missed the cut in his first appearance last year.
I might not feel that I played my absolute best but it was fairly solid, Stenson said afterward.
Fairly solid, indeed, for the Swede who was grouped with Els all four days and reckoned it was the first time he had won a tournament in which the redoubtable Woods was entered.
Meanwhile, back in America where John Rollins has quietly charged to the top of the FedExCup point standings, the glass was both half empty and half full for Quinney, who has held at least a share of the lead in three events this year while winning none of them. After making only one bogey in his first 36 holes at FBR, he said this: I dont really dwell on bogeys.
But it will be hard not to do so after bogeying the 71st and 72nd holes in Arizona.
For his part, Baddeley moved up 46 places on the world rankings to No. 44. I want to be the best, he said. ... its a long way to go yet.
Stenson is much closer. He advanced four spots in those same rankings and now sits at No. 10. He is now the 65th player since the Official World Golf Ranking began 21 years ago to reach the top 10.
To Stenson, who resides now in Dubai, it must feel like an oasis.
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