Howell aims for tenth-time lucky
CHARLES Howell III must have been flummoxed and frustrated when Cameron Champ won on only his second start as a professional on the PGA Tour.
But that could provoke a title-chasing response in the Mayakoba Golf Classic starting in Mexico on Thursday.
Champ, 23, had the historians reaching for their record books as he averaged drives of 334 yards and birdied five of the last six holes to power to a lifechanging four shot win in the Sanderson Farms Championship last week.
Meanwhile 39-year-old Howell is preparing to teeup for his 528th PGA Tour event in a near-20 year professional career during which time he has won only two PGA Tour titles.
Howell knows all about winning early on because he did that in his second full season by claiming the Michelob Championship, but he is the first to admit that his career has been one of consistency rather than celebrations.
“If you had told me after I won in 2002 that 16 years later I’d have only two wins I’d have laughed at you and told you that you were crazy,” said Howell.
“But I would also have said you were crazy if you told me I’d play as consistently well as I have for this long. I didn’t see myself as that type of player.”
In truth neither did his peers because Howell possesses such a silky swing and terrific temperament that he was lauded as a true champion of the future – just as Champ is being now – and being paired throughout the 2003 Presidents Cup with Tiger Woods emphasised his attributes.
Nevertheless, he has only one other win to his credit – the 2007 Nissan Open when he beat Phil Mickelson in a play-off – although he has won more than $35m so he has kept the bank manager on his side.
That stems from making an incredible 409 halfway cuts from those 528 appearances with 89 top tens including 16 runners-up finishes – he has lost four play-offs with the latest being in the 2017 Quicken Loans National – and he is one of only ten players to have made it through to all 12 FedExCup play-offs.
What is particularly maddening for Howell is that he has only one top ten from 45 Major Championship appearances and for a man born in Augusta, Georgia it is disappointing that he has no top tens in eight Masters and that he has not played there since 2012.
As he averages drives of around 300 yards he is never going to compete with Champ, who may find it more difficult to contend this week, but his game is tailor-made for the 7039 yards (par 71) Greg Norman-designed El Camaleon course in the Riviera Maya.
This will be Howell’s tenth straight assault on the course, which bends through mangrove jungles, limestone canals and spectacular ocean-front stretches, and he has finished in the top 20 seven times. Indeed, he has only shot over par three times in 34 rounds for which he is 84 under par.
Moreover, he has underlined by finishing seventh in 2016 and fourth last year his penchant for the course and after finishing 40th in the FedExCup last season he began the new term with a tie for fifth in the CIMB Classic which suggest he is in good spirits with his game.
It will not be easy for Howell because the strength of the field demonstrates the growing popularity of this event with Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson Kevin Kisner, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth and Gary Woodland among those teeing-up,
Finau, seventh in 2014, and Fowler, runner-up to Patton Kizzire on his debut twelve months ago, are obvious threats while Spieth’s decision to challenge for the first time is intriguing and Woodland, runner-up to Pat Perez in 2016, will fancy his chances again.
Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo, a top ten finisher the last two years, is in decent form and Kevin Kisner, back after a four year absence, will have high hopes of claiming a win in an event that in 2007 became the first on the PGA Tour to be contested outside of the USA or Canada.
Consistent: Charles Howell lll