Former champion Aaron Baddeley will take advantage of a sponsor’s exemption so that he can play in his 17th consecutive Waste Management Phoenix Open in his home town of Scottsdale, Arizona this week.
A tribute to Jarrod Lyle at the par-3 16th hole where he made a memorable hole-in-one in 2011 will make it an emotional week for the two Aussies in the field in Baddeley and Cameron Smith, with Cameron Davis currently on the reserves list.
New Zealand’s Danny Lee is also in the field, hoping to bounce back after missing the cut at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
Having failed to retain his card in 2018, Baddeley’s opportunities to play on the PGA TOUR in 2019 will be limited, the 2007 champion understandably grateful to receive an invitation to play from The Thunderbirds, a local charity arm charged with promoting the region through sport.
Although he missed the cut in his first two appearances at the famed TPC Scottsdale layout, Baddeley has since racked up $1.34 million in career earnings at the most raucous venue in golf and appreciated the chance to add to that tally in 2019.
“The WM Phoenix Open is my favorite week of the year,” Baddeley said upon receiving the exemption into the field.
“Scottsdale is home and I love playing in front of the awesome crowds and my friends and family.
“My game is coming around nicely and I’m excited to have this chance to get the year off to a good start.
“The Thunderbirds do an amazing job with the tournament. Being a local, I can appreciate the impact the tournament has on the community and charities throughout the year.”
Since his win 12 years ago Baddeley’s best finish at the Phoenix Open is a tie for 17th in 2015, missing the cut in 2016 and 2017 before a top-30 result last year that was under-pinned by a third round of 66.
Starting the year with limited status, Baddeley Monday qualified for the Safeway Classic and proceeded to finish tied for fourth, storming home last start in the Desert Classic with a 7-under 65 to finish tied for 17th.
Such is his position, a top-10 result at La Quinta would have secured Baddeley a start at the Farmers Insurance Open but he can now return to a happy hunting ground with momentum on his side and sitting 73rd on the FedEx Cup from just four starts.
Like Baddeley, Smith’s most recent round was a 7-under 65 in the final round at Torrey Pines that propelled him to his second top-10 finish of the year.
Four sub-70 rounds in his first event of the year at the Sony Open was a strong continuation of the form that saw Smith claim a second straight Australian PGA Championship and he returns to TPC Scottsdale with two made cuts from three appearances, his best a tie for 42nd in 2017.
Runner-up at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in November, Lee has missed the cut in five of six appearances at Phoenix but was fourth in 2016, where he led the field through 54 holes but fell three spots on Sunday due to a 1-over round of 73.
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