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.
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
HONOLULU -- Which player should the rest of the field fear this weekend at the Sony Open in Hawaii?
Try Charles Howell III.
Having reached the weekend in eight of his 10 starts in this event, Howell has never shot anything less than even-par 70 in his 16 third or fourth rounds. His scoring average in the final two rounds of the Sony Open is 67.4. That's why one reason why he has five top-10 finishes here.
Howell really has no explanation for why he's played so well at the Sony Open, especially once he makes it to Saturday.
"I wish I knew," he said. "I like the golf course. It makes you think an awful lot. Par's a good score on a lot of these holes, especially in the cross winds.
"Anymore than that, I really don't know."
Although Howell said he generally favors courses that are longer and allow him to hit "a bunch of drivers" -- he's hit just four drivers in each of the first two rounds -- he obviously knows how to manage his way around this course. On Friday, he hit just three of 14 fairways, but offset his three bogeys with four birdies and an eagle at the par-5 ninth.
"It's not the first time I've only hit three fairways around here," he said.
Howell's twin 67s leaves him in a great spot heading into Saturday. He's only been in better position here after two rounds one other time -- in 2007, when he was 8 under and eventually finished tied for second.
Two years ago, he shot 66-64 on the weekend to finish tied for fifth.
Howell can't explain his success here, but he does know one thing.
"It might be in my best interest to find out why," he said.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
ATLANTA -- That wedge he holed for his third and final birdie at No. 18 on Thursday?
"It was a good shot that got lucky," Charles Howell III acknowledged with a grin. "... I probably deserved more of a 3 than a 2 after the tee shot."
The delicate shot elicited a big roar from the crowd when it found the cup and capped a round of 67 for the native Georgian, leaving him three strokes off Keegan Bradley's lead.
"It played about as easy as it could play, not much wind out there, a bit of humidity so the greens were holding," Howell said, adding the putting surfaces might be the best the TOUR has played all year. "I'm not sure how it'll be the rest of the week, but I thought today was definitely a good day to shoot a low number."
Howell said he spent some extra time on the range this week trying to work out some kinks in his game after he shot 3 over at Cog Hill and tied for 42nd on Sunday at the BMW Championship. Given the uncertainty in his game, Howell was particularly pleased with his solid start Thursday to "sort of calm things down a bit."
Howell, who is looking to snap a victory drought of more than four years, faces an uphill battle to win the FedExCup. He needs to win the TOUR Championship and have Webb Simpson finish 21st or worse, Dustin Johnson sixth or worse, Justin Rose and Luke Donald fourth or worse and Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker third or worse.
In short, the FedExCup stars must align. But Howell, who came into the week ranked No. 26, isn't obsessing over the numbers or anything. Not when he knows that just making the TOUR Championship has put the Augusta, Ga., native back in the field for the Masters next year.
"That was a big goal for me this year, so this tournament is in a way just a bit of a reward," Howell said. "I don't have much of a chance to win the FedExCup, although I'd love to, but yeah, I mean, a bit less pressure in that sense. Still, though, I don't know if that makes it easier or harder."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- His bogey-free streak on The Old White TPC ended on his 87th hole in competition.
Not to worry, though. Charles Howell III still finds himself in the hunt at The Greenbrier Classic for the second straight year.
Howell, who has made seven birdies and three bogeys this week, shot his second straight 68 on Friday to move to 4 under. He was three strokes off the lead held by Brendon de Jonge when he finished.
"The changes to course have toughened it up for sure," said Howell, who had 12 birdies and an eagle last year on the way to finishing in a tie for ninth.
"If nothing else, just the firmness in the greens has made it tougher. I don't know if you'll see a 59 this year, although it was exciting to have last year sort of a guy shoot really low. But definitely toughened it up this year."
The Old White TPC has undergone a restoration that included reseeding all 18 greens since Stuart Appleby fired a final-round 59 to win last year. Howell, who is looking to break a four-year victory drought, says the biggest adjustment is knowing when to play conservatively.
"(We) find ourselves playing away from a some of the pins; where before when it was more of a dartboard we played a bit more aggressive to 'em," Howell explained. "But the greens are so young so they're still quite firm. So there are a lot of hole locations out there that need to be getting a little bit of respect.
"The greens are rolling perfect. I don't think anybody putted on 'em for a while, so they're rolling good. You just have to be aware of the some of the corner flags and that the ball is going to bounce through the green a bit. And with the added length we're not quite hitting as many wedge into the holes as we were. So it takes a bit more patience out there, I think."
The steady Howell must be doing something right. He hit 11 of 14 fairways for the second straight day, as well as 12 of 18 greens in regulation. His 28 putts were three less than he used in the first round.
The lanky Georgian, who ranks 24th in the FedExCup, is looking to end a four-year victory drought. Howell came to West Virginia primed, though, with three top-five finishes in his last four starts.
WHITE SUPLHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – Seeing Charles Howell III climbing the leaderboard at The Greenbrier Classic shouldn’t be a surprise.
After all, he tied for ninth last year in the inaugural PGA TOUR event at The Old White TPC. Even more recently, Howell has finished fifth or better in three of his last four starts.
The lanky Augusta, Ga., native has quietly made his way to No. 24 in the FedExCup standings, as a result. He stands to gain a lot more if he can continue his strong play at The Greenbrier this week.
Howell started on the back nine Thursday and birdied Nos. 13 and 17 to turn in 3 under. He added two more birdies in his first five holes on the front before making his only bogey of the day at No. 6 when he found a fairway bunker.