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Els beats young Aussie in playoff

©Associated Press
January 20, 2003

HONOLULU -- In a thrilling battle that ended with an unlikely birdie, Ernie Els outlasted 21-year-old Aaron Baddeley in a playoff Sunday to win the Sony Open and become the first in 14 years to win the first two PGA Tour events of the season.

Unlike Jan. 12 at Kapalua, the "Big Easy" had to work hard for this one.

He appeared to be a beaten man when he missed the 353-yard 10th green to the left and chipped through the green, some 55 feet from the hole.

Instead, Els rammed home the putt -- just like Tiger Woods did to him three years ago at Kapalua -- and won on the second playoff hole when the young Aussie's 20-foot birdie putt hung on the lip.

"It was a heck of a putt," Baddeley said. "I'm disappointed because I had a chance to win. But I'm happy because I made Ernie work for it, and I didn't have my A game today."

Els closed with 3-under 67 and Baddeley had 69 as both finished at 16-under 264.

"I thought the kid was going to go away, but he kept at me," Els said. "Unlucky for Aaron, but he's going to win a lot of titles."

He gave himself every chance at winning the Sony Open.

With steely nerves and a game that belies his age, Baddeley holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to force a playoff, made another birdie from 6 feet on the 18th to continue and was in much better shape than Els on No. 10, the second playoff hole.

But it was Els who produced the stunning conclusion and earned $810,000, pushing him to $1.81-million atop the money list. He might still be there when he returns to the PGA Tour for the Match Play Championship at the end of February.

Baddeley, meantime, proved again to be a player who thrives on big stages against big-time competition. He first rose to prominence as an 18-year-old amateur who beat Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie in the '99 Australian Open. He also has beaten standouts Robert Allenby and Sergio Garcia.

Els, the No. 2 player in the world, applied pressure from the start, but Baddeley never backed down. They slugged it out to the very end, a three-time major champion and a young Aussie with a game of someone far more experienced.

Els made up a two-stroke deficit after five holes at Waialae Country Club, and he had at least a share of the lead the rest of regulation.

Chris DiMarco had 66 and finished third at 14 under and defending champion Jerry Kelly eagled the final hole for 65 to tie for fourth with Robert Allenby (66).

Andy Miller, 23-year-old son of former PGA Tour star and current TV analyst Johnny Miller, shot 64 to finish at 1-under 279.

DUNHILL CHAMPIONSHIP: England's Mark Foster made a 35-foot eagle putt on the second extra hole to win a six-man playoff in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Foster beat Paul Lawrie, Bradford Vaughan, Trevor Immelman, Doug McGuigan and Anders Hansen in the first six-man playoff on the European PGA Tour since 1990.

Foster closed with 4-under 68 and finished at 15-under 273 for his first European tour win.

On the first playoff hole, Hansen and McGuigan were eliminated after the four others birdied.

Foster, who missed a 12-foot putt for eagle on the first extra hole, rolled in a snaking, 35-foot eagle putt for the win.

Immelman, coming off his first European tour win a week earlier at the South African Open, narrowly missed a chip-in on the first playoff hole.

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