Baddeley, Woods to battle final day at Oakmont
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2007 US Open | Round Three | 17 Jun 2007
Aaron Baddeley takes a two shot lead over Tiger Woods into the final round of the US Open at Oakmont after a second consecutive round of even par 70 separated him, at least temporarily, from this great field.
That he has been able to handle things so magnificently throughout the week further confirms the progress he has made, more especially in the past eighteen months, but it also highlights the significant role his caddy Pete Bender is playing in his development as a player.
Bender is heading for a great milestone himself if Baddeley is able to get the job done tomorrow as he will have been on the bag in three significant wins by three different Australians in the last twenty years. At the 1986 British Open, Bender helped Greg Norman finally get across the line in a major for the first time at Turnberry and in 1981 Bender was again on the bag when Ian Baker Finch won his British Open at Royal Birkdale. If things work out as planned tomorrow this will be a huge day for both.
Baddeley has never finished better than 52nd in the ten majors he has played to date but not only has he a chance to change that statistic but to change his golfing life forever. Baddeley was a boy wonder who took longer to realise the expectations that he and many others had anticipated. The 26-year-old has, however, done exceptionally well just to retain his USPGA Tour playing privileges since graduating via the Nationwide Tour in 2002. He has earned more then US$6 million in that time and only in 2004 did Baddeley appear to be in jeopardy of losing those privileges. His progress in 2006, with his win at Hilton Head, and then again this year with his win in Scottsdale and his continuing run of good finishes, has him well positioned to take the step that many felt he might earlier.
In order for him to do so there are many hurdles yet to climb and classy opponents to repel, none more so than Tiger Woods with whom he will have the pleasure of sharing the last round of the 2007 US Open. Baddeley and Woods will be paired together in the final group on day four when at 3.00pm they will head out in what promises to be an epic final day.
Baddeley certainly did not appear as if he would be the third round leader when he reached the turn in two over for the day and four over for the tournament. He then trailed Bubba Watson by three and Angel Cabrera by two. At that point Tiger Woods, who had moved into contention with two early birdies, was at 3 over and applying actual and psychological pressure to all.
Watson, who had just made a great par save at the 8th was again left from the fairway at the 9th and this time he was not going to get away with it. With a one shot lead he left his pitch shot in the rough then, hitting it virtually on the run, he pitched over the green, eventually taking triple bogey and falling two behind Cabrera. The Argentine, who had started the day with a one shot lead had it back again but it would be short lived as he dropped a shot at the 10th after missing the green from the right rough and he, Woods, Baddeley, and Niclas Fasth all shared the lead at that point.
Cabrera had a chance to take the lead back at the 11th from 6 feet but hit a poor putt and the deadlock remained. After holing a 9 foot curling right to left putt at the 10th, Baddeley found the green at the par five 12th and two putted for birdie and at 6.02 local time he had, for the first time, the lead on his own. He added his third birdie in four holes when he made a ten footer at the par three 13th and when he got up and down from behind the green at the 14th for par, he had extended that lead two, courtesy of his own brilliance and some help from those still struggling with the vagaries of Oakmont.
Ahead, Woods, who had been brilliant all day, was rolling along at 3 over and appeared likely to birdie the 17th when his tee shot was in the air at the reachable par four. It just trickled through the green into an awkward lie and he was unable to get up and down. After driving it in the trap at the last he had no alternative other than to lay up and although he hit a good putt he finished at 4 over but still clearly in the hunt.
Woods’ turnaround in his play from tee to green from that displayed on Thursday and Friday was marked and will ensure that he carries some great momentum into tomorrow’s final round. It was, perhaps, a disappointing final two holes, given the quality of his play all day, but playing in the final group tomorrow, he will be in a position to apply the most fearsome pressure on his younger and less experienced opponent. They will not though be alone in having the chance to win.
After hitting the lead, Baddeley got the speed wobbles with bogeys at the 15th and 16th after missing the green at both holes. He made a marvellous par at the 17th after a defensive play from the tee went horribly wrong and then at the 18th hit a fine tee shot and then an 8 iron to 14 feet. He led by one over Woods at that point but when his putt rolled perfectly into the hole the lead was two.
Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Bubba Watson and Stephen Ames all either had the lead or a share of it at various stages over the final nine holes but none were able to finish off in the manner of Baddeley and Woods. They remain just three back of the lead however and must still fancy their chances in what promises to be a great battle tomorrow. So too will the likes of Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Angle Cabrera, who are all at 6 over, although for Cabrera he will have to overcome what was a poor day today. He will be able to play without the pressure of leading tomorrow and it might make the difference. Any collapse by Baddeley means that all these players are just two shots behind the likely winner, Woods, and they may be seeing it that way as they retire for the night.
Others just one shot further back again include Niclas Fasth, who also shared the lead at one stage over the back nine before a late struggle, David Toms and Stuart Appleby who birdie the last two holes, the last from 50 feet to give himself an outside chance.
So Baddely leads the field and the Australians with Appleby in 10th position and Nick O’Hern 26th at 11 over.
Baddley will need to be at his best tomorrow if he is to hold off Woods and the others waiting to take advantage of any slip up. Over the last eighteen months he has taken his game to a new level and he has presented himself with the chance to do the same again tomorrow. The drought of major victories, which hung over Australian men’s golf for nearly eleven years until Ogilvy’s effort last year is, potentially, on the verge of being well and truly broken.
If he is able to win Baddeley will become the youngest player to win a major, other than Tiger Woods and Ben Curtis, for many years. If he is not able to do so, then this week has reminded us all that it is now just a matter of time.