Aaron Baddeley, your leader after three rounds of the 107th U.S. Open, has a lot of time to kill before teeing off this afternoon with Tiger Woods, of all people, in the final pairing with nothing more at stake than the premier championship in golf. He might want to give Jack Nicklaus a ring. He has to have the cell number, right? The two sat down and talked at Nicklaus' Memorial tournament two weeks ago after Baddeley approached for a little advice. Nicklaus, impressed by the young guy's gumption, told him to call any time.
Well, this is the perfect time.
That's assuming, of course, Nicklaus hasn't called Baddeley already. You don't think Big Jack would love to see him hold off Woods and deny him a 13th major championship on what seems like an inexorable march to Nicklaus' record of 18, do you? Not to be cynical.
But, really, who better than Nicklaus to offer a few tips on what Baddeley will be facing today? Here's Baddeley, barely more than a kid at 26, having to take on not just the devilish conditions of Oakmont Country Club, but the best closer in golf, on an Open Sunday, no less. Damn right he should make that call.Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette
Aaron Baddeley reacts to his putt going in on the 18th green for a birdie to finish the third round of the U.S. Open yesterday.
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"I'm very comfortable playing with Tiger in a major. If I had to pick one golfer to play with, it would be Tiger," a surprisingly calm Baddeley said after his even-par 70 yesterday gave him a two-shot edge on Woods.
That's easy to say on a Saturday night, a much different beast on a Sunday afternoon. But give Baddeley credit for this: He didn't lose his poise when facing all of the questions about Woods, many insinuating he had no chance of staring him down. He knows what he's up against. So do the other players in contention, actually. "Tiger is definitely the man to beat," Stephen Ames said, seemingly forgetting that Baddeley has the lead.
"I've worked my whole life to be in this position," Baddeley said. "I'm going to embrace it."
Certainly, Baddeley, who grew up in Australia but also has American citizenship because he was born in New Hampshire, stood up to the intense pressure on the back nine yesterday. He made birdies on Nos. 10, 12 and 13 to rocket to the lead but then gave two strokes back with bogeys at 15 and 16. He really looked as if he was in the jackpot when his drive on No. 17 ended up in the high grass, a sidehill lie inside a bunker that practically screamed double bogey or maybe, "See ya later, Aaron!" But darned if he didn't hit a fabulous approach shot to the back of the green and two-putt for par.
"That was key. That really felt like a birdie," Baddeley said.
At that point, it was hard to believe Baddeley was once so frustrated as a teenager in 2000 that he considered giving up the game. "I told my dad I was quitting and walking away because it was too hard." As it turned out, those tough times played a big part in him making it here, to the top of that precious Open leader board. "That was the most important part of my life. I didn't have the character to be able to stand up under the pressure when I needed to ... who I am as a person, my character, everything has developed and become stronger. I'm not searching anymore and I feel very peaceful, very content with who I am and where I'm going."
Now, to get where Baddeley really wants to go -- the 18th green this evening, accepting the winner's trophy from Open honorary chairman Arnold Palmer -- all he has to do is hold off Woods and the others, but especially Woods.
Baddeley might want to make another call today to good pal Zach Johnson. Woods also played in the final pairing at the Masters in April, but Johnson won the tournament, proving that even the best closer occasionally gives up a killer home run in the bottom of the ninth.
Then again, Johnson didn't have to play with Woods. He didn't have to face the distractions, not to mention the pressure, that go with being paired with Woods at a major. Heaven forbid if Baddeley has an issue with focusing.
"Never had one issue with that, to be honest," he said.
Now for the punch line:
"I think because [Woods'] galleries are so big, you can't see anyone move."
The kid really was cool.
Nicklaus must be so proud.
Nicklaus clearly was moved when Baddeley approached him at the Memorial, so moved that he mentioned it during the television broadcast. "It doesn't happen very often. This is a young man who wants to get better. I admire that."
"I was really keen to talk to Jack because, obviously, he's the best player who's ever played the game," Baddeley said. "Everyone talked about how well he thought around the golf course. So I tried to talk to him about how he prepared for tournaments, for majors, and how he played his way around the course. He was great. I was amazed how he was like, 'Ask me more. Ask me more.' "
That other young players don't take advantage of such an informational treasure chest is unfathomable, but that's not what's important here. This is: Did Nicklaus say anything that can help Baddeley today?
"Absolutely," Baddeley said.
He wouldn't reveal details, but that's OK. Last night wasn't the time to share Nicklaus' little secrets. But today? Today is the perfect day to show the world.
Ron Cook can be reached at email@example.com .