The last big hurdle for Aaron Baddeley was a row of eucalyptus trees to the left of the 17th fairway at Riviera, a shot that could have made his two-shot lead disappear at the Northern Trust Open.
He never gave it much thought.
2011 NORTHERN TRUST OPEN
The Northern Trust Open boasts the strongest field of the season so far.
With a 3-wood, he aimed at a gap in the trees and played a 50-yard cut to get back out into the fairway and escape danger. Moments later, he rapped in a 5-foot par putt on the final hole to win for the first time in four years.
In a battle of generations, Sunday's win at historic Riviera made him feel young again.
It was only two years ago that Baddeley abandoned the "Stack & Tilt" method to return to Dale Lynch, his first coach when he was a teenager in Australia. The goal was for Baddeley to shape shots in both directions without having to worry so much about technique.
His shot on the 17th wasn't the most pivotal in the final round, but it meant plenty to Baddeley.
"Just being able to forget everything, and being able to hit that shot, that's part of the plan," Baddeley said. "Just to be able to let it go and hit shots. So it was great."
Baddeley closed with a 2-under 69 for a two-shot victory over Vijay Singh, who turns 48 on Tuesday. The 29-year-old Australian also had to rally from an early one-shot deficit over Fred Couples, the 51-year-old crowd favorite at Riviera who was trying to become the oldest PGA Tour winner in more than 35 years.
This is the kind of stardom for which Baddeley seemed destined when he won the Australian Open as an 18-year-old amateur in 1998 by beating Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie, who had just won another European Tour money title. He repeated the next year as a pro, but results have been mixed since then.
Baddeley left his roots to join David Leadbetter, then was among the early pupils of the "Stack & Tilt" method taught by Mike Bennett and Andy Plummer. He won twice on the PGA Tour, but not since the Phoenix Open more than four years ago.
That also was the year he lost a two-shot lead in the final round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont.
The return to Lynch, he said, made it feel like going home.
"It sounds weird, but he had such an impact on my golfing career growing up," Baddeley said. "He was very much like a mentor, the way I thought, the way I practiced, the way I went about everything. To be able to come home -- come back to Dale -- felt like coming home because it felt like I was becoming a kid again. And that's what made it fun."