And Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy miss the cut in Abu Dhabi.
I’ll get to most of that below, but Charles Howell III’s start to the season can’t be ignored -- though in some respects he’d probably like to.
Sunday marked the 14th time in Howell’s career that he has finished second in a PGA TOUR event. The only player in the same 30-something age bracket as Howell who has more? Tiger Woods.
On one hand, Howell’s start to 2013 is promising. The 33-year-old finished third and second in his first two starts. He’s yet to shoot over 67. And he’s made just seven bogeys in 144 holes.
On the other, he hasn’t won in six years and has just two career wins after what was a heralded amateur career with high expectations. The near-miss Sunday also cost him a spot in the Masters, which the Augusta, Ga., native has qualified for just once in the last four years.
“It's awfully challenging mentally, and the chances to win are what we want,” Howell said on Sunday. “But I still necessarily wouldn't necessarily call it fun.
“I'm really disappointed. I wanted to get back into the Masters. It's so darn hard to win out here and when you do have a chance to do it, it's painful to let it slip by.”
Howell’s lack of victories certainly haven’t been the result of a lack of effort. Few work harder than he does, in the gym and on the game. But he’s also gone through a number of swing coaches, most recently having hooked up with Gary Gilchrist.
“I still need to find a way to do a little better job coming down the stretch and do a little better job closing golf tournaments,” said Howell, who shot 64 Sunday but three-putted for par on the final hole of regulation and ultimately lost in a playoff. “Especially when you have the chances to win.”
Howell should have another one of those chances this week in San Diego, where he has, naturally, twice been a runner-up.
THE BACK NINE: 9 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. Brian Gay didn’t exactly have a banner year in 2012 with 10 missed cuts in 28 starts. “Last year was a struggle,” he said. “I just wanted to come out this year kind of refocused, recharged, and believing in myself.” Part of that was offseason work with Grant Waite and Joe Mayo to try to hit the ball farther -- never one of Gay’s strengths. It paid off in, among other things, Gay’s tee shot on the final hole of the playoff when he uncorked a tee shot north of 300 yards to give himself a short iron in to set up the winning birdie. “It's helped me a lot,” Gay continued. “I was trying to get more efficient with my driver numbers to kind of max out my distance.” It added up to a fourth career win and Gay’s first in four years.
8. Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods both missed the cut in Abu Dhabi -- the first time first time Nos. 1 and 2 in the world had done so in the same tournament since last year’s U.S. Open when Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy both failed to reach the weekend. Don’t read too much into it. That’s golf. It happens. On a side note, Woods will make his PGA TOUR season debut this week at Torrey Pines, where he has never missed the cut.
9. Speaking of McIlroy, his swing looked like a bigger problem than his new equipment. We’ve seen this before from McIlroy, too, when he missed three of four cuts on TOUR last May and June. One other thing we’ve seen from McIlroy: An ability to diagnose and fix it.