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."