Aaron Baddeley returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since 2007 with a battling victory in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club, California.
Australian-born Baddeley had the added baggage of playing with crowd favourite Fred Couples, but fazed out the chants of ‘Freddie’ that greeted almost every shot Couples made to survive a late mistake and eventually card a two-shot win over Fijian Vijay Singh.
Baddeley’s mistake came at the par-4 12th hole, where two visits to the trees and a missed 2-foot putt meant he ran up a double-bogey to undo much of the work he had did previously in the round by carding three birdies; but he recovered well to birdie the 13th hole.
Couples had held onto Baddeley throughout the opening holes, but it all came undone for the 51-year old at the seventh hole, where he pushed his drive into thick rough and he had to thrash at the ball in an attempt to get it back into play; crucially, Couples – plagued with a fragile back – was never quite right after that shot.
“I just didn’t feel the same after that,” Couples said. “I didn’t really hurt myself, but I never hit a shot, and I just got it around. I mean I couldn’t hit an iron. I hit a few good drives, but I was afraid to hit the ground.”
Kevin Na, playing in the final group alongside Baddeley and Couples had an up-and-down round as he sought to mount his own challenge; starting out with a birdie but making several errors throughout the day and Na was never better than 9-under par throughout the final round. His closing level-par round of 71 was still good enough to take sole possession of third place.
Jimmy Walker, Ryan Moore and Australian Robert Allenby shared fourth place on 8-under par, while Fred Couples slipped back into a share of seventh place, alongside KJ Choi.
Baddeley’s win earned him $1,170,000 and a place in the US Masters at Augusta in April. It was his first win on the PGA Tour since he won the 2007 Phoenix Open, and lifts the player to fourth place in the FedEx Cup standings.