Holding his toddler son and followed by his wife and two daughters, Aaron Baddeley headed to the practice range in the twilight of Saturday’s third round at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.
The walk, for a player once billed as a can’t-miss Aussie PGA Tour phenom, couldn’t have been sweeter.
Badds, as he’s known on tour, is in contention again.
The 33-year-old stumbled briefly coming home, but finished with a third-round 1-over 71 that left him three shots back of leaders Chad Campbell, David Toms, Chris Stroud and Hideki Matsuyama and tied for 18th at Colonial.
It’s a position, though, long overdue for Baddeley and one that might have snapped a streak of frustrating golf.
“I played great all day, really, and all week,” he said. “I think I hit 15 greens yesterday and 14 today, and after getting some momentum last week the game’s really starting to feel good.”
In 12 full seasons on tour, Baddeley peaked with wins in 2006 at the Verizon Heritage and 2007 at the FBR Open.
He rode the wave back up in 2011 with a win at Northern Trust Open on his way to $3 million in earnings and a 22nd-place finish in the FedEx Cup standings.
But that might seem like a lifetime ago for the New Hampshire-born Baddeley.
He fell to 119th in the standings last season and sits 237th in the world rankings.
A far stretch from where the top-ranked player in the world, friend and fellow Aussie Adam Scott, sits.
Baddeley’s low round of 2014 came at the Northern Trust Open, where he took a spin around Rivera Country Club in 65 shots. Coupled with his first-round 69 that week, he went into the final 36 holes just three shots back of leader Sang-Moon Bae.
That’s when the storm clouds started to cluster again.
Baddeley posted 18 consecutive rounds with a scoring average of 73.1 before his start at the Byron Nelson last week.
“You know, it sounds weird, but it’s OK to play poorly if you know what you’re doing,” Baddeley said. “But what drives you insane is not knowing, and there were definitely some dark days during that time, especially as poorly as I was hitting it and not knowing why.”
Enter former tour player Grant Waite and Dallas teaching professional Chris Como into the equation.
“They pointed out things I never would have looked at,” Baddeley said.
He registered nine birdies in the first 36 holes and seemed in control Saturday as he reached 1 under through 13 holes, with a lone birdie coming at No. 3.
But the bogey bug showed up on 14 and then again at No. 17 after players sat through a brief rain delay.
Still, he’s tied for fourth this week in par-5 scoring average and will need to get outside that comfort zone to claim the plaid jacket.
Baddeley ranks 31st in scoring average on the par 3s and 29th on the par 4s while averaging 34.0 strokes on Colonial’s front nine.
His lowest round in six starts at Colonial was a second-round 66 in 2005.
Tied with Scott and five others in 18th place, he’ll begin the final round needing to fire a low number to surpass the leaders.
He’ll make that effort paired with Jordan Spieth with an 11:15 a.m. tee time Sunday.
“It’s always great to see a friend up there and someone you played junior golf with as the No. 1 player, it’s a bit of inspiration you know,” Baddeley said of Scott. “This year hasn’t been exactly what I wanted it to be, but you can see the progress along, and I know that, in the end, I will hit it the best I ever have soon.”