Date: January 04, 2008

Baddeley begins year with a bang

Aaron Baddeley is within two shots of the lead after firing a three-under par round of 70 during the opening round of the Mercedes-Benz Championship in Kapalua. The Australian overcame two early bogeys to storm home with four consecutive birdies down the back nine to move well within reach of leader American Nick Watney, who finished at five-under par, in the opening event on the 2008 PGA Tour. Watney carded six birdies, including three in a row on numbers three to five and took sole possession of the lead with his final birdie at the par-four 17th. Sweden&aposs Daniel Chopra is alone in second place following a four-under 69 on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, which is the lone par-73 layout on the PGA Tour. Reigning US Open champion Angel Cabrera and Jonathan Byrd are tied for third with Baddeley in the 31-player field. Canadian Mike Weir, the winner of the 2003 Masters, is tied at 71 with Brandt Snedeker, who carded seven birdies and held the lead at 5-under before stumbling down the stretch. Snedeker double-bogeyed the par-four 17th hole before completing the round with his third bogey of the day. Stephen Ames of Canada, who won the 2007 season-ending Children&aposs Miracle Network Classic, is in a three-way tie for eighth with Steve Flesch and Rory Sabbatini at one-under. At number three in the world, Jim Furyk is the highest-ranked player in the event, which lacks Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson – the top two players in the world. Furyk, who won this event in 2001 and is coming off a 2007 season in which he had one win and eight top-10 finishes in 23 events, carded a one-over 74. Defending champion Vijay Singh also is at one over. Like Furyk, he had just one birdie and two bogeys in his opening round. The Fiji native has always played well at Kapalua, finishing second in 2004 and 2006 to go along with a fifth-place showing in 2005. World No. 5 Steve Stricker, a surprising repeat winner of the tour&aposs Comeback Player of the Year Award, is among five players at even par. Leader board after opening round of the Mercedes-Benz Championship (par 73): -5: Nick Watney 68 -4: Daniel Chopra 69 -3: Jonathan Byrd 70, Angel Cabrera 70, Aaron Baddeley (Australia) 70 -2: Mike Weir 71, Brandt Snedeker 71 -1: Stephen Ames 72, Steve Flesch 72, Rory Sabbatini 72 E: Justin Leonard 73, Steve Stricker 73, Hunter Mahan 73, Woody Austin 73, Scott Verplank 73