By Ferd Lewis
It started at the ninth hole about the time the ball rolled in on a 45-foot eagle putt and the buzz would soon spread with alacrity the length and breadth of Waialae Country Club.
From spectators along the rock wall lining the eighth hole on Kahala Road to the far-flung 15th hole, the word was out at the Sony Open in Hawai'i: "The kid" was taking off.
"The kid" and it is said with proper awe of one so accomplished at such a tender age is 21-year old Aaron Baddeley and, unless you witnessed Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus at the same age, he's like no other youngster you've probably seen on the PGA Tour.
At Waialae, where youngsters are neither to be seen nor heard from on the leaderboard entering payday, Baddeley stands boldly two strokes out in front of Ernie Els, the man he calls the "second-best player in golf," and the 77-player field.
Not since Ben Crenshaw was a wet-behind-the-ears 24 when he won the 1976 Hawaiian Open, the youngest player to win a PGA title in the 37 years of the combined Hawaiian and Sony Opens, has one so young dominated the landscape before him so completely here.
With another round mirroring what has given him a 15-under 195 heading into today, Baddeley is poised to win a PGA event in his first time out as a Tour member.
The operative word here this week when it comes to Baddeley is, indeed, "poised." While you could almost hear the fingernails scraping down the leaderboard as players old enough to be his father took themselves out of contention, Baddeley, the guy with the matinee idol looks, was coolly, calmly setting the pace with three birdies and the eagle on the front nine.
Unflustered in rare forays into the rough as he is by standing atop the leaderboard, you wonder if the Australian with the "no worries, mate," demeanor fully grasps the gravity of what he's doing.
Baddeley made the last of nine consecutive pars to close out his round standing in the shadow of the towering Sony Jumbotron featuring his Godzilla-sized likeness on the 18th hole.
He made jokes on his round and was firing one-liners in the press conference afterward, before announcing his plans to lay waste to some sushi, read a book, make some phone calls and get a good night's sleep.
Butterflies, he was asked? "Not since the Masters (1999)," Baddeley said. And it came off as fact, not false bravado.
What we're seeing this weekend is a glimpse of the success first forecast for Baddeley when he won back-to-back Australian Opens as an 18- and 19-year old amateur phenom.
The "Australian Tiger" they called him at the time.
But not even this most precocious of players who, at age 13 announced his goal to play the PGA Tour by age 21, could have forseen the events of this week. Not by a Tour rookie, someone playing the course for the first time.
Yet, there was Baddeley doing the front nine in a 5-under 30 yesterday and completing 54 holes one shot off the tournament record.
"Obviously he (Baddeley) is a guy for the ... big-time ... what's the word, big occasions," Els said. "He's definitely not scared. I guess the way he's playing, he feels he can beat any field."
Suddenly, performing Baddeley means setting the standard.