Apr 162006
Authors: Ron Green Jr.

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – At 8 o’clock Easter morning, Aaron Baddeley stood at a lectern behind the 18th green at the Harbour Town Golf Links and told a wind-whipped crowd gathered for a sunrise service about his faith.

He talked about his childhood in Australia where he dreamed of being a cricket player until golf captured his 13-year-old spirit.

Baddeley, more familiar to the crowd for a television commercial featuring him driving a convertible full of female admirers than for anything he’s done on the PGA Tour, told of his comet-like success as a teenager when he became Australia’s greatest export since Greg Norman.

And he talked about the expectations he’d never met, his own and those invisible ones heaped on him by others.

Ten hours later, Baddeley leaned over a seven-foot par putt on the same green to win the Verizon Heritage and repeated a portion of a Bible verse – “power, love and a sound mind” from Second Timothy 1:7.

Then Baddeley was standing in the sunshine, having seen his winning putt hook into the hole from the right side to beat the dogged Jim Furyk by one stroke. Baddeley stood there for a moment, arms raised over his head, letting it all sink in.

“We knew this would come one day. We just didn’t know it would be this week,” said Richelle Baddeley, Aaron’s wife of one year and one day.

How could it not have been this week?

On Friday, Baddeley holed an 8-iron second shot for an eagle at the par-4 18th hole, and on Saturday he and Richelle celebrated their first anniversary while he slept on the third-round lead he shared with Furyk.

After his Easter morning testimony, Baddeley and his wife took a one-hour power walk along the beach and then he went about reconstructing his golf career.

“I feel like I’ve been out here forever and I’m only 25,” said Baddeley, who finished at 15-under-par 269, one ahead of Furyk and two ahead of Billy Mayfair and Vaughn Taylor.

That’s what happens when you’re sprinkled with stardust before you’re 20. Baddeley and Adam Scott were contemporaries in Australia, but while Scott’s star glistened, Baddeley’s dimmed.

In 2000, Baddeley wanted to quit golf. Two years later, he was on the Nationwide Tour but was happy again.

On Sunday, with Furyk, Mayfair and Ernie Els among others chasing him, Baddeley delivered a gritty performance to win his first PGA Tour victory.

Two strokes ahead midway through the final round, Baddeley found himself trailing Furyk by two with seven holes remaining. While Furyk watched a string of good putts avoid falling in the hole, Baddeley patiently stalked the lead and, when he finally got it with a birdie at the par-5 15th, it was his for keeps.

“I’m not surprised,” Furyk said of Baddeley’s performance. “I didn’t expect him to go out and shoot 80 or anything like that.”

Furyk will be haunted by three putts he thought he’d made – at the 13th, 17th and 18th holes.

After both players bogeyed the par-3 17th playing directly into the sun and wind, Furyk figured he needed to birdie the tough 18th to force a playoff.

When Baddeley missed the green long with his second and chipped short to seven feet, Furyk had a chance to win with his 11-foot birdie putt.

“Could’ve been the best putt I hit all week,” Furyk said, but it slid past on the left.

That allowed Baddeley to bow his head over his par putt and lift the weight expectations off him.

“This was an amazing week,” he said. “It’s a win. It’s a relief but it’s a dream.”

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