By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - Three years after winning his most recent PGA Tour title at Riviera Country Club, Aaron Baddeley flourished at the same venue as he charged into contention for the Northern Trust Open on Friday.
In ideal scoring conditions under sunny skies, the Australian birdied the last four holes on the fabled layout that winds its way through the Santa Monica Canyon to card a six-under-par 65 in the second round.
Baddeley, who has not triumphed anywhere since clinching the 2011 Northern Trust Open by two shots, totaled eight birdies and two bogeys for an eight-under aggregate of 134 to sit just one stroke off the early lead.
"To birdie the last four was extra special," an elated Baddeley, who ended his round by sinking a 25-foot putt on the 18th green, told reporters.
"I'm excited, definitely excited to finish like that and just to have a chance to win here is great.
"It's coming along," he said of his overall form. "Had a couple of good saves early and just coming down the last few holes, I played nicely, so the game is starting to feel good and so is the putter."
Baddeley's 2011 victory at Riviera, where he fended off a fast start by crowd favorite Fred Couples on the last day and a mid-round charge by Vijay Singh, ended a four-year title drought on the PGA Tour.
The Australian has always enjoyed the classic par-71 layout which, at 7,349 yards off the back tees, is not especially long by modern standards but it offers a variety of options for shot selection and boasts some of the shrewdest bunkering around.
"It's just a good golf course, you have to shape it both ways and you have to think," said Baddeley, 32. "It's a little bit like the (renowned Melbourne) Sandbelt back home (in Australia).
"It's definitely one of my favorites, always has been. It's a strong course, especially when it's dry and firm like it is (this week).
"If you miss it out of position, it's really hard to get the ball up and down. Today was good, because I made a couple of good saves but coming in, I had some good looks and made them."
Asked if it felt like three years since he had last been in the winner's circle, Baddeley replied: "No, it hasn't actually. It feels like it hasn't been that long.
"It's good to be back out there where you have a chance to win and especially here. You go places where you've had success, whether it's a win or just played well, you get good feelings just because you've hit a lot of good shots.
"You've got a good feel for the course and you know how to play the golf course. Around here, obviously having a win, but also I've had quite a few top-10s or high finishes, I always feel comfortable coming back here."
Baddeley tied for seventh at Riviera in 2005, when the event was cut to 36 holes due to torrential rain that week, and finished joint 11th in 2012.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Ian Ransom)