By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- The Coachella Valley is bathed in sunshine Sunday morning as the leaders of the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation get set for the final round on the Palmer Private Course.
Scott Stallings owns a five-stroke advantage over Roberto Castro, Stewart Cink, Charles Howell III, John Rollins and Charley Hoffman. Stallings, who did not make a bogey in his first 54 holes, is looking for his third PGA TOUR win in 58 starts.
Four of the five players tied for second are trying to end lengthy victory droughts while Castro is seeking his first win. Howell's last victory came in 2007, Cink and Rollins last won in 2009 and Hoffman is seeking his first since the 2010 FedExCup Playoffs.
The deficit is admittedly daunting. But over the first three rounds, the Palmer Course averaged nearly two-and-a-half strokes under par and the course gave up a 59 to David Duval when he won the tournament in 1999. Stallings and Cink both shot 66s the first time they played the Palmer this week while Howell and Castro had 67s and Rollins shot 70.
Cink, who lives in Atlanta, used today's NFL playoff game between the Falcons and San Francisco 49ers to size up Sunday's competition.
"The Falcons are about a four-and-a-half point underdog, and does that translate into a five-shot deficit?" he said. "I'm probably a 14-point underdog tomorrow with a five-shot deficit. So I think I have a bigger challenge than they do.
"They have Matt Ryan. I don't have another person to be my quarterback tomorrow. I have to be my own quarterback and receiver."
Should the 27-year-old Stallings go on to win, he would become the third player in his 20s to win in the first three TOUR events of 2013. The last time that happened was in 1977 (Jerry Pate/Phoenix Open, Bruce Lietzke/Tucson Open and Tom Watson/Bing Crosby National Pro-Am). Tom Watson also won the fourth week on TOUR in 1977 at the Andy Williams-San Diego Open Invitational.
Stallings would also become the sixth player under the age of 30 with three of more TOUR wins, joining Dustin Johnson (7), Rory McIlroy (6), Anthony Kim (3), Webb Simpson (3) and Keegan Bradley (3). He'd also get a second straight trip to the Masters.
Charles Howell III is in the hunt again at Waialae Country Club. (Petersen/Getty Images)
By Ann Miller, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
HONOLULU—Charles Howell III might be the most frustrated man in paradise at this week’s Sony Open in Hawaii. It is nothing a sweet Sunday finish can’t cure.
Howell has been coming to Waialae Country Club for the PGA TOUR’s first full-field event of the year since 2002. He has won more than $1.85 million here, with six Top 5’s including a pair of seconds.
But he has yet to win here, and it is making him crazy.
“I like it here,” Howell said Thursday, after an opening-round 66 put him right in the thick of Sony things — again. “I don’t know why I can’t win. I wish I could sort of figure that out. But I like it. I’ve always enjoyed coming here since the first time. It’s a nice week. It’s an easy way to start, coming to Hawaii.”
The islands’ laid-back atmosphere gets blown away on the weekend when you are in contention, and Howell is almost always in contention here because of how well he plays on Saturday and Sunday. In 18 weekend rounds, he is 46 under, with even-par 70 his worst score.
A year ago he put himself in position with a Saturday 66, but could not catch eventual champion Johnson Wagner. Howell shot 69 Sunday, with 33 putts.
“I just didn’t putt very well,” Howell said that day. “I didn’t put any pressure on Johnson. But he played fantastic, hit every shot he need and played great.”
Howell was gracious, but clearly looked frustrated that day. He hasn’t won since 2007, and this is one of his favorite weeks. He wants to win anywhere, but especially here.
“I really like this golf tournament,” Howell said. “I would love to win this one. This one is right up there at the top. I’ve come close quite a few times now.
“Any other tournament I’d be encouraged, but here maybe I am a little bit frustrated. Listen, it’s still encouraging, it’s hard to ever say a top-three finish is not. But yeah, I would really like to get this one.”
He is back in position again, hoping his Hawaii heartbreak is finally at an end.
To preview the 2013 PGA TOUR season, PGATOUR.COM is counting down the Top 100 Players to Watch in 2013. For an archive page with the top 100 players and for an explanation on how the list was compiled, click here .
2013 PREVIEW: Charles Howell III will be focused on ending a victory-drought that has stretched to five years in 2013. His scoring average dropped from eighth in 2011 to 44th last year while his greens in regulation dripped more than two percentage points and his rank in strokes-gained putting fell from 30th to 93rd.
2012 DEFINING MOMENT: If there's ever a place Howell might be expected to get back into the winner's circle, it's at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He finished second to Johnson Wagner in that tournament last year, posting his sixth top-five finish and second runner-up in 11 starts at Waialae. –- Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
ALBERS’ QUICK TAKE: Charles is a better player than what his record would indicate. He has trouble closing out tournaments and I don’t know why. Howell finished second in Hawaii, and then disappeared until the Frys.com Open. He did finish the year strong and maybe that’s a springboard to 2013. Howell is 105th on TOUR in final round scoring average, and that has to improve..-- Fred Albers, SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio
BOLTON’S FANTASY OUTLOOK: For a veteran that plays as often as he does -- he made 29 starts in 2012 -- you'd think he'd be an automatic buy at $1.284 million in salary games. However, he suffered a 16-event drought without a top 25 that spanned from April into October. He's carved out a living logging top 25s, averaging 11.33 per year since his rookie season of 2001. He had eight this year, but only two were top 10s to set a career low since acquiring fully exempt status. The good news is that he finished strong, but that also inflated his price tag. He's most attractive as a low-risk, predictable investment. CH3 is only 33 and has yet to finish outside the top 70 on the money list. -- Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM Fantasy expert
2012 QUICK REVIEW
Regular Season ranking
Final Playoffs ranking
||Sony Open in Hawaii|
|By the Numbers
Cuts made: 20
Rounds played: 98
Top-10 finishes: 2
Money List rank: 67th
Driving distance: 51st
Driving accuracy: 171st
Greens in regulation: 47th
Strokes gained-putting: 93rd
Scoring average: 42nd
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
What is you prediction for Charles Howell in 2013? Fill out the form below and let us know.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- This season started out promising enough for Charles Howell III.
Howell tied for second at the Sony Open in Hawaii and looked like his first win in five years might not be far behind. Not so much.
“I played like a dog the rest of the year pretty much,” said Howell, who at one point in the middle of the year missed nine of 14 cuts.
That changed a few weeks ago, though. Howell tied for 11th at the Frys.com Open and followed with a tie for seventh at The McGladrey Classic.
“I went into the Fall Series to try to get some confidence going to prepare in the off season to play better for next year,” Howell said.
He seems to have found some.
Friday, Howell shot a 67 to get to 9 under halfway through the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. Through the first two rounds here, Howell has hit 29 of 36 fairways.
“It was a struggle this year,” Howell admitted. “I've played a little bit better than I thought I would the last few weeks, but I'm getting some confidence back, which is always good. And I'm much more positive going into my off-season practice than I was if I had ended just right after the FedExCup.”
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
ORLANDO -- Bay Hill, which has played more than a stroke above par through the first three rounds, is difficult enough. And Sunday seems to have brought more of the same with 42 players now on the venerable course and only seven in red numbers for the round.
Seeing Tiger Woods' name at the top of any leaderboard brings added challenge -- but particularly at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. After all, this is a man who has won the tournament a record six times and he owns a one-stroke lead over Graeme McDowell as the two tee off at 2:05 p.m. ET.
"He doesn't seem to struggle around Bay Hill," said Charles Howell III, who starts the final round four strokes off the pace. "It's going to take a heck of a round from somebody tomorrow to catch him, maybe make him sweat a bit.
"You know what, it's so good to see his name up at the top of his leaderboard. It's good for the golf and it's good for the players. It's fun going out there."
Woods takes at least a share of the lead into the final round for the 53rd time, and he has won 48 times previously. One of the most telling stats is that he has outscored his final-round playing partner by 2.92 strokes in those events.
“I'm just looking forward to it,” Woods said. “It's going to be fun. Graeme and I, we enjoy playing together and it's going to be a fun pairing. I'm looking forward to getting out there and seeing what happens.”
At the same time, Woods and McDowell have played together 10 times and are dead even in terms of who shot the lowest round – 4-4-2. McDowell did get the best of Woods in the final round of the 2010 Chevron World Challenge, though, as he came from four strokes back to win.
The Northern Irishman is excited to have another chance to test his game against the former world No. 1.
“There's a familiarity of Tiger Woods being on the leaderboard every week, because that's what he did when he was at his best … up until a few years ago, really,” McDowell said. “No doubt, it's been a weird couple of years without him kind of competing, but I'm kind of in the camp that believes that Tiger Woods is extremely good for the game of golf and great to see him back playing good again and competing for events.
“… It’s fun to have him back. We want to win the biggest events and we want to win majors with him in the field because he's going to be possibly the greatest of all time if not the greatest of all time. It's going to be fun for us to look back on our careers when we’ve had big wins over him.”
Will Claxton leads by one stroke at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, but he’s got plenty of competition right behind him. The Auburn alum, one of only two players with bogey-free rounds on Thursday, is trailed by seven players, including Charles Howell III.
“It was good today. It was a little bit windy early, which around here is fairly commonplace, but it wasn't -- didn't really pick up, you know, maybe till our sixth or seventh hole, so we got to get a little bit in the calm,” Howell said. “You know, there's a long way to go yet, though.”
Claxton is making just his fifth start on the PGA TOUR, while veteran Nick Price is making his 463 rd. The Champions Tour pro fired a 69 in the first round. Another veteran, Greg Norman, designed the El Camaleon course, got off to a slow start with an opening 79.