Rapid reaction: Baddeley's big win at Riviera

Aaron Baddeley reacts after winning the 2011 Northern Trust Open at Riviera.

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In the end, the favorite storyline never materialized. Fred Couples did not win the Northern Trust Open. But you can’t say that he squandered it away, not with the ball-striking show put on by Aaron Baddeley, who tops our look at five things from the final round at Riviera:

1) Smart and steady does it

Sometimes, it’s not how many birdies you make, but how few bogeys you cough up. Look no further than Baddeley, whose march to victory at Riviera was a tribute to making very few mistakes.

How few? He made just one bogey in each round (though Sunday’s was of the double flavor, at the par 4 12th). So even though he made just 15 birdies and an eagle (compared to runner-up Vijay Singh, who made 20 birdies), Baddeley put his hands around the trophy.

Key reasons why? Baddeley went 4 under on the par 5 first, 3 under on the delightful par 4 10th, and 10 under on the front, which is considered the tougher side on which to score.

2) Can’t keep this guy down

Far down the leaderboard and well away from the hoopla over Fred Couples was arguably the most inspiring finish of the tournament: Erik Compton’s final-round 64.

It pushed the young man into a share of 25th, his best-ever finish in 23 PGA Tour appearances and while it doesn’t get him a card or assure him any other tournament berths, it sure does prove the kid has a lot of gumption.

Surely you know his story, how he’s on his third heart, after having battled more health ailments and operations than most of his colleagues in the pro golf business added together. Without any sort of status, Compton, 31, is traveling the toughest of roads this year – trying to Monday qualify.

He succeeded this time around, but more than that, he did something with it. Rounds of 72-70 to him into the weekend, but a Saturday 75 left him well down the list before he roared home with birdies on four of his last seven holes to jump 39 spots up the leaderboard to earn his biggest check as a professional – $51,837..

3) Left Coast all right with Lefty

After a sterling three-year run at Riviera – second, first, first – Phil Mickelson has recorded two pedestrian finishes, a T-45 last year backed up by this year’s T-36.

Though there have been some bright spots – he challenged at Torrey Pines and opened 67-65 at TPC Scottsdale – Mickelson is in danger of setting an unwanted personal record. Never has he gone two straight seasons without a victory on the opening set of tournaments in his part of the world.

Certainly, Mickelson has been a machine out of the gates – a San Diego kid who honed his game in Arizona and remains loyal to his roots. Since his first full season on the PGA Tour, 1993, the lefthander has piled up 16 victories on the West Coast Swing, with only four winless stretches between 1993-2009.

But unless he wins the upcoming Accenture Match Play Championship, Mickelson will go winless for a second consecutive West Coast Swing.

Not that he’s chopped it up, however. To the contrary, Mickelson has finished top 10 twice in four tournaments thus far on the West Coast, going 34 under in 16 rounds.

4) Oldies and still goodies

Just how much of a blast from the past was it to see 51-year-old Couples and soon-to-be-48 Singh chasing victory in the same tournament? The last time they both finished inside the top 10 of the same tournament was the 2006 Masters.

Singh had only recently dropped out of the top 100 in the world order for the first time since 1989 and it was easy to think that he was through as a contender.

But after two years without notching a top three finish, Singh has gone T-3 at TPC Scottsdale and now second at Riviera.

“I haven’t had this feel for a long time, but it’s really good,” Singh said. “It was good. I’m feeling good, and I think I’ve still got it.”

5) Hottest guy on Tour?

Would you believe Jimmy Walker?

No, well, there’s evidence to support the suggestion. Consider five tournaments played, five cuts made, and three top 10 finishes.

At 8 under, the 32-year-old Walker finished T-4 and bumped his season earnings to a whopping $745,500 and to get an idea as to how impressive that is, consider that Walker set a personal best in 2010 of $937,987 – but it took him 27 tournaments.

Then again, Walker will cool himself off this week. That’s because he’s not qualified for the Accenture Match Play Championship, nor will he play in the opposite-field tournament at Mayakoba in Mexico.

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