By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Charles Howell III thinks par will be a good score over the weekend at TPC Sawgrass, so needless to say he was happy to get out early Friday.
Howell shot a 67 to get to 6 under halfway through THE PLAYERS Championship, which means he'll be around for the weekend for the first time since 2007 after making the cut here for just the fifth time in his career.
"We had the best weather we could ever play this course in," said Howell, whose 67 was his best score in the tournament by two strokes and just his second in the 60s. "The greens were better this morning because we had no traffic on them. But right there the last few holes, they were starting to get baked out a bit."
That includes the difficult 18th, where Howell ran his chip 20 feet past the hole before sinking the putt to save par and cap a bogey-free round.
"I putted well today," said Howell, who took five fewer putts than in the opening round with 28. "The greens were perfect this morning. It was like putting on carpet out there."
Howell has played well this season with five top 10s, including a second and third, but he's still looking for his first win since 2007.
Charles Howell III will be looking to get back on track this week. (Cannon/Getty Images)
Each week, PGATOUR.COM's Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton offers his Power Rankings for the weekly TOUR event as well as his Sleeper picks. But what about the players who don't make the Power Rankings but who can't really be considered Sleepers? Bolton will make one "wild card" selection from the large group of players who fall into that middle range but might rise up to claim the title. This week's pick is ...
CHARLES HOWELL III
He's eighth on the PGA TOUR in FedExCup points and he finished T19 in his last appearance at Redstone in 2011, but he's gone four straight starts in full-field stroke-play events without cracking the top 25. Placed T45 at last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard where he finished outside the top 25 in all relevant splits. For the season, he's 21st on TOUR in strokes gained-putting, 12th in adjusted scoring and fourth in scrambling.
Howell shot a 3-under 67 Thursday at PGA National. (Ehrmann/Getty Images)
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Once Charles Howell III is inside the ropes, he tries not to think about going back to the Masters.
"The golf courses in Florida are so tough, it almost forces you a bit to worry more the task at hand," he said. "But the ads are already running on ESPN, which is almost cruel in a way, you get the birds chirping and the sunshine, the Masters."
Of course if Howell keeps playing the way he has, the results will take care of the rest.
The Augusta, Ga., native has three top 10s in six starts. Thursday, he shot a 67 to sit near the top of the leaderboard at The Honda Classic.
Howell came into the week 64th in the Official World Golf Ranking -- up two spots after reaching the second round of last week's World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. Howell needs to move inside the top 50 by the end of next month to qualify for the year' first major.
If he can continue his current trend, Howell could also get into next week's World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, which has no cut, guaranteed money and World Ranking points.
Players in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, or the top 10 in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai standings, following this week are eligible for the event at Trump Doral. The top 10 in the FedExCup standings not otherwise qualified also earn spots. Howell is currently eighth in the FedExCup.
"I still know I've got to play good, which takes out a lot of the guesswork and stuff," Howell said. "The guys behind me can knock me out for next week. I know if I want to play in the Masters, I've got to play really good golf coming ahead."
He did that Thursday with five birdies and just two bogeys on an overcast, chilly morning at PGA National, where he also had just 26 putts.
"I like the direction we're going," Howell said of his work with coach Gary Gilchrist. "My short game is starting to get a little bit better. I think my putting has gotten better. It's nice to know that I have a chance to hole it, especially coming into these courses here that are a bit more difficult."
And a chance to return to the Masters.
MARANA, Ariz. -- Charles Howell III knocked out Tiger Woods on Thursday. CH3 then proceeded to get knocked out by Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano in Friday's second round.
Howell couldn't summon the magic that he displayed in outdueling Woods in the first round. After playing a bogey-free 4 under to beat Tiger, Howell failed to produce a birdie in a 2-over round through 13 holes.
Meanwhile, Fernandez-Castano -- who earlier in the day completed his first-round win over Francesco Molinari -- never trailed as he posted a bogey-free 5 under. He won the first two holes and was 4 up through eight. He finished off Howell with his final birdie of the day at the par-5 13th.
Fernandez-Castano has seven birdies in the first two rounds against just one bogey. He's hit 74 percent of his greens and 88 percent of his fairways.
SCORECARD STATS: Fernandez-Castano carded five birdies and no bogeys. Howell carded two bogeys and no birdies.
HOLES WON: Fernandez-Castano won five holes. Howell did not win a hole.
NEXT OPPONENT: Fernandez-Castano plays the Webb Simpson-Peter Hanson winner in the third round of the Player bracket.
Tiger Woods and Charles Howell III during their match in which Howell won Thursday. (Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
ACCENTURE: Recaps of all first-round matches
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
MARANA, Ariz. -- Tiger Woods played well in his opening match at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. But Charles Howell III played better.
As a result, Howell -- the 63rd overall seed in this event -- pulled off the upset of the No. 2 overall seed Woods, winning 2 and 1 in the looming darkness in Thursday's first round at Dove Mountain.
Howell advances to play the winner of the match between Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Francesco Molinari, which is all square through 15 holes and will be completed Friday.
"As far as beating Tiger Woods goes, it shows you that match play is crazy," Howell said. "I did have to play a good round but ... yeah, it's a bit hard to believe sitting here today with this."
Woods, meanwhile, leaves after a first-round loss for the second time in his last three starts. In 13 career starts in this event, Woods has failed to get out of the first round just three times, equal to the number of times he's won the title.
He played solid on Thursday, bogey free with two birdies. But Howell was also bogey-free and made four birdies. Their match was the only bogey-free match of the first round.
"It's the nature of the format," Woods said. "You've just got to beat the guy you're playing against, and I didn't do that today. Chucky won the match."
"I knew I had to play my best to have a chance out there," said Howell, who lost a match to Woods in the 1996 U.S. Amateur. "He's Tiger Woods and I was just happy to hang in there."
Woods was not happy with the outcome but was happy with the way he played. Given a chance to halt the match after 16 holes due to darkness -- both players were asked if they wanted to continue -- Woods opted to keep playing because he felt he could birdie the last two holes.
"I played well, I really did," Woods said. "I hit a lot of good shots out there."
Howell never trailed. He birdied the par-4 fifth to go 1 up, but Woods squared the match at the par-4 fifth when he rolled in a putt just inside 20 feet.
But Howell regained the lead at the par-5 eighth hole with a birdie putt of 27 feet.
Woods squared the match again at the par-5 13th with a putt from 7-1/2 feet. But Howell took the 15th and 16th holes with birdies to go 2 up. His approach at the 15th landed inside of a foot, and then he drained a birdie putt from inside 24 feet at the par-3 16th.
Howell hit 15 of 17 greens and nine of 13 fairways, while Woods hit 14 greens and 12 fairways.
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Tiger Woods is clearly in his element Friday as he lengthens his lead to three strokes at the Farmers Insurance Open.
The six-time tournament champion birdied the first and second holes on the North Course, his 10th and 11th of the day, to get to 10 under for the tournament. Woods has played his last four holes in 5 under -- thanks in part to that eagle on the 18th.
Charles Howell, who has finished third and second the last two weeks, continues his red-hot play. He heads a group at 7 under that also includes K.J. Choi, Luke Guthrie, John Senden, Luke List, Billy Horschel and Ross Fisher.
Mike Weir, who appears poised to make his first cut in 18 starts, is among a group of eight players at 6 under. He's even par and is playing the more difficult South Course.
Also at 6 under are Harris English, Nick Watney, Erik Compton, Tag Ridings, Vijay Singh, Josh Teater and Justin Hicks. Of that group, Compton has the best round going -- he's 5 under through 10 holes on the North Course.
There are currently 70 players at 2 under or better. That number does not include San Diego's favorite son, Phil Mickelson, who has made two birdies and two bogeys in his first six holes on the South Course to remain at even par for the tournament.
Robert Allenby joined Jason Kokrak in withdrawing after nine holes. citing an injury to his left hip. Troy Kelly and Blake Adams withdrew prior to the round.
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Don't look now but an eagle on the 18th hole at the North Course, his ninth of the day, has lifted Tiger Woods into a share of the lead at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Woods, who shot 32 on his first nine holes, is 8 under for the tournament and tied with Charles Howell III. Howell is playing the more difficult South Course and shot 2 under on his front nine.
Woods has won the Farmers Insurance Open a record six times in 12 previous starts.
K.J. Choi, who shared the overnight lead with Brandt Snedeker, is one stroke behind after eight holes on the North, tied with PGA TOUR rookie Luke List. Snedeker, Mike Weir, Luke Guthrie, Ross Fisher, Justin Hicks and Billy Horschel are deadlocked at 6 under.
The cut right now is projected at 2 under with 71 players inside that number. San Diego's Phil Mickelson, the three-time champion who is playing the South Course, just birdied No. 3 and is 1 under.
Jason Kokrak withdrew after nine holes with a back injury.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- The way Charles Howell III sees it, the "real one" comes today.
The 66 he shot on the North Course at Torrey Pines in Thursday's first round of the Farmers Insurance Open admittedly was a nice start. Not to mention, it was his ninth straight round in the 60s this year.
But Howell must tackle the more difficult South Course in the second, teeing off at noon ET (9 a.m. PT). He knows he'll need to be at the top of his game to challenge for what would be his first win in six years come Sunday.
Howell struggled off the tee in Thursday's opener, hitting just two fairways -- and none on the back nine. But the slender Georgian managed 14 fairways and his 28 putts helped keep Howell one stroke off the lead.
"It's hard to keep the balls in the fairway on the North Course, and I know that going in,' Howell said. "So it's more about what side you miss them on, and I was able to miss them in the right places. You've got to score."
Howell, whose last win came at the 2007 Nissan Open (now called the Northern Trust Open) has been playing extremely well this year. He tied for third at the Sony Open in Hawaii and then lost to Brian Gay on the second playoff hole Sunday at the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation.
"I was excited (abou) the start I got off to -- I didn't hang my head," Howell said.
Howell, who has two runner-up finishes at the Farmers Insurance Open, credits the work he's done with Gary Gilchrist with helping fuel his hot start.
"It's a crazy game, number one, and you've got to realize that," Howell said. "Number two, ... he's simplified things for me, I would say. We haven't done a ton of technical work, but we've talked about how I think on the golf course and what I'm trying to do, the shots I'm trying to hit, and then balancing out my practice with the short game and long game and doing a better job of that."
Howell, who is from Augusta, Ga., has added motivation this year, too. He's not yet exempt for the Masters, a tournament he dearly wants to play. Last year's tie for 19th marked his first appearance since 2008.
"At the same time putting pressure on myself hasn't shown to be beneficial," Howell said. "Hence, the gray hairs. but I guess I'm either too stubborn or not smart enough to not know a different way. So I'll give it my best shot to get in there.
"It's a hard tournament to watch on TV. ... You miss the British Open and you turn on the TV at 7 in the morning and you see it raining sideways and you're like, ahh, OK. But you miss the Masters and the azaleas are in bloom -- that's a hard one to miss."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- All he needed to do was cover the 83 feet between his ball mark and the cup in two putts rather than three.
If Charles Howell III had been able to make that birdie rather than take three putts for par at the 72nd hole he would have ended a five-year victory drought at the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation.
Instead, Howell found himself in a playoff with Brian Gay and David Lingmerth. He matched Gay's birdie on the first extra hole but saw his chances all but evaporate when his approach at the second landed in the back greenside bunker.
Howell blasted out to 12 feet and proceeded to miss the putt for par. Gay, though, only had 5 feet for birdie and the win, and he did it in style.
Still, Howell couldn't be too disappointed. He didn't even think he had a chance to win until he hit his second shot at the 18th hole. Not when he went into the final round tied for second and trailing Scott Stallings by five strokes.
"Quite honestly, going into the day, I didn't really think that anybody had a chance apart from Scott," Howell said. "He's won before, he hits it long enough to take advantage of the par 5s. At 22 under, I figured if he shoots 6, 7 under, he's really not catchable.
"So then to have a chance there in regulation, that's where I really would like that one back, that three-putt there. But it happens and once you get a playoff, anything can happen. So here we are."
The runner-up finish was the 14th of Howell's career. It follows a tie for third at the Sony Open in Hawaii, though, so Howell feels like the attention he's put on his short game during the offseason may be paying dividends.
"I'm thrilled with the start of the season," he said. "I would have taken that for a Christmas present wrapped up nicely and had it."
At the same time, Howell knows there is work to be done. He has to figure out a better way to close out a tournament. He needs to make the crucial putt or come up with the clutch shot to get the over the hump.
"I mean, like last week, Russell Henley shooting 24 under, I never saw that out there at all and I finished third," Howell said. "I didn't really ever have a chance to win that tournament. But here, having had a good chance there, if you just two-putt the last hole, yeah, I just need to keep working and keep doing a better job of closing those out."
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- We now have a four-way tie at the top of the leaderboard after Scott Stallings' bogey at the par-4 16th hole.
Stallings, who started the final round with a five-stroke lead, is deadlocked with David Lingmerth and Brian Gay, who have finished their rounds, and Charles Howell III who is about to tee off on the par-5 18th hole.
Gay, who was on the fringe of the 18th green in two, eventually missed an 8-footer that would have given him sole possession of the lead. He shot 63. Lingmerth birdied the 18th to shoot 62 and get to 25 under.