Aaron Baddeley took three years to reach the PGA Tour. He looked like he was in a hurry today to win his first event at the Sony Open.
The 21-year-old Aussie quickly built a five-stroke lead over a collection of world-class players and finished with a 5-under-par 65 to keep his distance over Ernie Els.
Baddeley, who won back-to-back Australian Open titles as a teenager, kept his cool when his swing deserted him down the stretch, making tough par saves on the 15th and 16th holes as Els was making a run.
Baddeley was at 15-under 195 and was two strokes clear of Els, who had a 66.
"I'm just going to enjoy it," Baddeley said of his final-round pairing with Els. "Ernie is a laid-back fellow. Tomorrow is going to be a good day. All I can is worry about my golf ball. If I do that, I can win."
Robert Gamez, who hasn't won since his rookie season 12 years ago, had a 65 and joined Chris DiMarco (69) and Briny Baird (67) at 10-under 200.
Els is coming off an eight-stroke victory in the Mercedes Championships, at which he set a PGA Tour record at 31 under par. He is trying to become the first player since Steve Jones in 1989 to win the first two tournaments of the year.
That might not faze Baddeley.
A winner three times in Australia, his victims include Sergio Garcia, Robert Allenby, Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie.
Tied with Retief Goosen to start the third round today, Baddeley put eight strokes between him and the former U.S. Open champion on the front nine. Baddeley capped it off by holing a 45-foot eagle putt that curled in the back of the cup.
That gave him a five-stroke lead over the rest of the field, and he appeared to be poised for a runaway. Instead, Baddeley started missing greens ever so slightly, taking himself out of birdie opportunities. He finished with nine pars.
Els finally found his putting touch and birdied six of his final 10 holes, most of them from the 10- to 18-foot range. That enabled him to make up four strokes on the back nine, and give himself a chance Sunday.
"He's obviously very hungry to win his first event," Els said of Baddeley. "He's got a lot of talent. He's very much going to be a star of the future."