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."