OAKMONT, Pa. Aaron Baddeley believes he'll be the best player in the world in 5 to 10 years. To most golf fans, that probably seems a bit egotistical. Just look at the stats.
Badds has two career wins, one this year at the FBR Open and another at the 2006 Verizon Heritage. He has only a handful of international victories. When golf fans talk about top Aussies, the list usually goes Scott, Ogilvy, Appleby, Allenby.
But Baddeley may simply be emerging as the player he always believed he would be. While Tiger Woods moved up the leaderboard and everyone else backpedaled Saturday, Baddeley simply hung around. He began and ended his round at two over. He leads the U.S. Open and will play with Tiger Woods in Sunday's final pairing.
If the 26-year-old Baddeley is able to emerge as the 107th U.S. Open champion on Sunday, the world will take notice. But for Baddeley, a victory would only confirm what he's been expecting.
"I feel like I have the tools now that I need to be the best player in the world," Baddeley said in an interview with GOLF Magazine at the Players Championship last month. "I think that could be in 5, 10 years time. And that's fine by me. I'm just going to work as hard as I can and keep playing as hard as I can."
Baddeley's belief in his ability is matched by his devotion to his Christian faith, which is constantly on his mind on the course. Faith was sprinkled through his remarks after Saturday's round. Rather than mentioning a practice routine, he said he would spend time reading scripture and praying Sunday morning.
You can bet that Baddeley was reciting verses with fervor Saturday, especially after his tee shot on the par-4 17th. He tried to drive the green but got stuck in a thick patch of rough that trapped his ball halfway up the slope of a greenside bunker. He escaped with par.
\nBaddeley, who stopped working with the famed swing guru David Leadbetter two years ago, has been improving steadily. In 2005, he hit the fairway on only 53 percent of his drives (194th on Tour); this year, he's finding the short grass 62.4 percent of the time (75th).
Badds has been paired with Tiger twice recently, and both times he's hung with him. At the 2006 Deutsche Bank Championship, both players shot a combined 138 for their first and second rounds. At this year's Masters, Baddeley only trailed Tiger by four shots after playing with him for the first two rounds.
"He's the best player in the world," he said, when asked about playing with Tiger on Sunday. "I'm going to enjoy it."
\nListening to Baddeley after Saturday's round, he didn't sound like the player who missed the cut in his two previous U.S. Opens, and it's obvious he's found his rhythm, on the course and off.
"I feel very peaceful. I'm very content with who I am and where I'm going," Baddeley said. "Today I felt really calm out there. When I made a bogey, I wasn't really fussed a lot. My game felt right, so I wasn't really trying to press or do anything special."
His three-under 33 tied the day's best back-nine score and assured him a final pairing with Tiger. When Baddeley was just 18 and a rising star in Australia, he told a journalist that his goal was to be better than Woods.
Sunday's final round could be the first step.