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Els drains 55-foot putt in playoff to win second straight

HONOLULU -- Ernie Els was caught in a thrilling playoff
along the shores of Hawaii, a situation he knows all too well.

This time, he walked away as the improbable winner.

Els holed a 55-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole Sunday
to win the Sony Open against 21-year-old Aaron Baddeley, making him
the first player in 14 years to capture the first two PGA Tour
events of the season.

''I was just trying to stay alive,'' Els said. ''All of a
sudden, I win the tournament.''

Unlike last week in Kapalua -- an eight-stroke victory with a
record score -- the Big Easy had to work hard for this one.

Els appeared to be a beaten man when he pulled his drive left of
the 353-yard 10th green, leaving him only about 12 feet of putting
surface and no shot. He pitched it through the green, and Baddeley
had 20 feet for birdie.

''When it was 6 feet away, I was hoping I hit it hard enough,''
Els said. ''You can almost not believe it. That was quite
something.''

For Baddeley, it was a crushing end to his debut as a PGA Tour
member.

With steely nerves and a game that belies his 21 years, Baddeley
holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to force a playoff,
made another birdie from 6 feet to continue and was in much better
shape than Els on No. 10, the second playoff hole.

He never dreamed Els would make it.

''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 a 3-under 67, his eighth straight round in the
60s. Baddeley had a 69, as both finished at 16-under 264, two
strokes ahead of Chris DiMarco (66).

Els knows how the kid must feel.

Three years ago at Kapalua, he was involved in another titanic
battle against Tiger Woods. They matched birdies on the first
playoff hole, and Woods ended on the second extra hole when he made
a 40-foot birdie putt with 6 feet of break.

''I know exactly what it feels like,'' Els said. ''You come so
close, you grind so hard. I know it's disappointing.''

Reminded of Woods' putt in the 2000 Mercedes Championships, Els
smiled.

''As I said back then, the wheel keeps turning,'' he said.

Right now, everything is falling his way.

Els became the first player since Steve Jones in 1989 to win the
first two events.

He earned $810,000, pushing him to $1.81 million on the money
list. The 32-year-old South African might still be leading when he
returns to the PGA Tour at the end of February for the Match Play
Championship.

And while he beat a 21-year-old tour rookie, Els knows better.
This was as tough as any of his 12 tour victories.

''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.''

Baddeley first rose to prominence as an 18-year-old amateur,
beating Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie in the '99 Australian
Open.

He also has beaten Robert Allenby and Sergio Garcia, already
proving to be a a player who thrives on big stages against big-time
competition.

This was no different.

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. He appeared to take control only after an odd turn of
events on the par-3 17th.

His 25-foot birdie putt was tracking toward the hole when it ran
over Baddeley's coin mark about 3 feet from the hole, taking off
enough speed to keep it from going in.

Els said he misread the putt, so he didn't bother to ask
Baddeley to move his coin, which the Big Easy jokingly described as
the size of a thick, British pound.

''That was an amateur mistake,'' Els said. ''I had to laugh at
myself.''

Baddeley had not missed a putt inside 5 feet all week, and he
stuck to his routine. Once he makes the read, he strides to the
ball and quickly pulls the trigger. Only this time, the door of a
portable toilet slammed as he stood over the putt, and he backed
off.

He wound up catching the left lip to make bogey, one down with
one hole to play.

Neither player could reach the par-5 18th in two, both players
gave themselves a good look at birdie. A PGA Tour rules officials
had to determine who was away, and it turned out to be Els by 7
inches.

He left it short, and the brazen Aussie poured in his putt to
force the playoff. They both made birdie on the 18th in the
playoff, setting up the dramatic finish.

Notes
Andy Miller showed flashes of his dad in the final round.
The 23-year-old son of Johnny Miller was knocking down flags and
went out in 6-under 29. Birdies on the 11th and 12th put him 8
under with six holes to play. ''A couple of more birdies and I'm
right there at 59,'' he said. ''Of course, as soon as I thought
that I bogeyed the next two.'' He finished at 64, not a bad way to
kick off his rookie season. ''I had a lot going right today,'' he
said. ''You never complain with a 64.'' ... Hula dancers dressed in
skirts and coconuts gave players a lei when they finished their
final round. J.L. Lewis shot 40 on the back nine and declined his.
... Michelle Wie, the 13-year-old who shot 73 in Monday qualifying,
followed the final group Sunday. Asked about the purple plaid pants
worn by Aaron Baddeley, she said, ''I have a pair like that. I just
don't wear them when I play golf.''