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."