RSM Classic Recap: Howell Ends 11-Year Drought

RSM Classic Recap: Howell Ends 11-Year Drought

This article is part of our Weekly PGA Recap series.

From the moment Charles Howell III took the lead in the first round of the RSM Classic on Thursday, everywhere golf fans turned we were reminded of the magnitude of his victory dry spell: 4,291 days, 333 starts, 2007 Genesis Open and, good grief, his two children had yet to be born.

Yes, for 8 1/2-year-old Ansley Grace and 7-year-old Chase, 11 years seems like an eternity. The truth is, it did for their father, too. On Sunday, the Howell children raced onto the 18th green at Sea Island after seeing something they had never seen before: Their dad drained a 15-foot putt on the second playoff hole to defeat a gallant Patrick Rodgers and win for the first time in, well, if you're Ansley Grace and Chase, forever.

Howell, 39, won at Kingsmill in 2002, his second full year on Tour, and again five years later at Riviera. He has played in 529 PGA events, and only two other golfers needed more time for a third victory: Leonard Thompson (553 starts) and Howard Twitty (532). It's not as if Howell hadn't had his chances for more wins. He's been a quality golfer for the majority of his nearly two decades on Tour, ranked as high as 15th and now back up to No. 61. He's had 16 runners-up and nine third-place finishes through the years. It's just that every time he came close, something happened.

And sure enough, something happened to the leader early on Sunday. Howell bogeyed the

From the moment Charles Howell III took the lead in the first round of the RSM Classic on Thursday, everywhere golf fans turned we were reminded of the magnitude of his victory dry spell: 4,291 days, 333 starts, 2007 Genesis Open and, good grief, his two children had yet to be born.

Yes, for 8 1/2-year-old Ansley Grace and 7-year-old Chase, 11 years seems like an eternity. The truth is, it did for their father, too. On Sunday, the Howell children raced onto the 18th green at Sea Island after seeing something they had never seen before: Their dad drained a 15-foot putt on the second playoff hole to defeat a gallant Patrick Rodgers and win for the first time in, well, if you're Ansley Grace and Chase, forever.

Howell, 39, won at Kingsmill in 2002, his second full year on Tour, and again five years later at Riviera. He has played in 529 PGA events, and only two other golfers needed more time for a third victory: Leonard Thompson (553 starts) and Howard Twitty (532). It's not as if Howell hadn't had his chances for more wins. He's been a quality golfer for the majority of his nearly two decades on Tour, ranked as high as 15th and now back up to No. 61. He's had 16 runners-up and nine third-place finishes through the years. It's just that every time he came close, something happened.

And sure enough, something happened to the leader early on Sunday. Howell bogeyed the first hole and then incredulously rinsed his tee ball on No. 2, resulting in a double-bogey. Suddenly, he was down by three shots. As Howell later told reporters, "I had seen this movie before."

He also said: "I just honestly thought I had shot myself in the foot again."

Meanwhile, Rodgers, himself a non-winner on the PGA Tour, was following up a surreal 9-under 61 on Saturday with a 62 on Sunday. Despite facing all that, this day would be different for Howell. He birdied 15 and then 16 and then 17 to pull into a tie. He missed a birdie putt for the win on 18 and again on the first playoff hole. The next time, he didn't miss.

Thus, one of the annual storylines on the PGA Tour has already ended months prematurely: Augusta native Charles Howell is going back to the Masters for the first time since 2012, when he tied for 19th.

No, Ansley Grace and Chase have no recollection.

MONDAY BACKSPIN

Patrick Rodgers
That 61-62 weekend that Rodgers posted is the lowest closing 36-hole total in PGA Tour history, according to the Tour. And it wasn't good enough. Rodgers himself has had heartache on Tour – not anywhere close to Howell, mind you, but still. He was the top amateur in the world when he turned pro out of Stanford in the middle of 2014, and great things were expected. Rodgers has now had three runners-up but no greatness. Last year, he suddenly became an elite putter (10th on Tour in strokes gained) and led the field this week. The trouble is, while that was happening his once-stellar game off the tee regressed. He was T31 in greens in regulation on the week. Rodgers will probably get his win one day, although if it doesn't happen when you go 61-62 on the weekend, you wonder what the heck you have to do. He's ranked only 142nd in the world and has never been higher than 94th. The fields will only get tougher the rest of the season. Rodgers may have seen his best chance at victory for some time come and go.

Cameron Champ
The star of the now-completed fall season added a tie for sixth on Sunday, giving him four top-25s in five starts, one of which was, of course, his win at the Sanderson Farms. It also moved him inside the top-100 for the first time, at 97th. Champ led the Tour with 120 birdies during the fall. It will be interesting to see how he handles stronger fields beginning when he heads to Kapalua right after New Year's.

DP World Tour Championship

Danny Willett
Willett had won far more recently than Howell – the 2016 Masters, as a matter of fact – but in some ways his win was even more of a surprise. Not only did it came in a far stronger field in the European Tour's playoff finale in Dubai, but unlike Howell, Willett had largely fallen off the golf map shortly after Augusta two and a half years ago. He had injury issues, personal issues and swing issues that had seen him plummet from No. 9 in the world after his major win to well outside the top-300. Even though Willett had cobbled together seven top-25s and four top-10s since June, he still was nearly 300th in the world. Now, he's back inside the top-100, at No. 90, and it appears all those issues are behind him.

Francesco Molinari
While there was great suspense about who would win the tournament in Dubai, there was little about who would win the Race to Dubai. The Italian completed his greatest season by capturing the European Tour's season-long award – akin to capturing the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup. Molinari tied for 26th on the week and stayed at No. 6 in the world. As great as his season was, it appears that the only direction for the 36-year-old to head is down. With three wins, including the Open Championship, it will be hard for Molinari to replicate all that in 2019.

Matt Wallace
The Englishman, also a three-time winner this year, tied for fourth to finally crack the top-50 in the world. And, at No. 44, he's virtually certain to remain there through year's end, giving him a berth in the Masters and opening up other possibilities for him – he's already in the Open Championship and WGC-Mexico. It all depends on how much Wallace decides to play on the PGA Tour next year, but we should be seeing a lot more of his name in big places in 2019.

Patrick Reed
Reed began the round tied with Willett and paired with him. But as he did with Rory McIlroy at the Masters, Reed was unable to throw Willett off this game. Instead, it was the American who stumbled at the start. Reed rallied to tie for second, which was enough to move him to No. 15 in the world. The news here is that it dropped Jordan Spieth down another notch, to No. 16.

Australian Open

Abraham Ancer
Mexico's top golfer has been hovering around the winner's circle for months, and he finally landed smack in the middle. Ancer rolled to a five-stroke victory that will move him to No. 60 in the world and send him to the Open Championship. The Australian Open is part of the Open Qualifying Series, and three berths were at stake for those not already exempt. Only three pros in the field – Matt Kuchar, Keegan Bradley and Cameron Smith -- were exempt, which tells you everything you need to know about the quality of the competition for Ancer. Regardless, Ancer will take the win and he is someone to really keep an eye on next year.

Cameron Davis
The young Aussie opened his defense of his nation's championship in stunning fashion: quadruple bogey, double bogey, bogey. Seven-over through three holes. Davis not only made the cut, he rose to a tie for 13th late in the third round before fading on Sunday. He's not the top Cameron on Tour, Champ is, but he is another rookie who could make a dent.

John Senden
The former top-40 golfer had fallen to nearly No. 2,000 (yes, that's three zeros). Senden left golf for a year to be with his ill son, who now is doing much better, before returning this past spring. The 47-year-old couldn't so much as crack at top-30 in his comeback until tying for fifth in Sydney. He jumped more than 1,000 spots in the OWGR. The Aussie doesn't have much fantasy value, but this was noteworthy story to tell.

Dunlop Phoenix

Brooks Koepka
Koepka needed to finish tied for 11th or better to hold on to his No. 1 world ranking. He finished 12th. And thus, the game of musical chairs continues, with idle Justin Rose returning to the top spot. But according to Twitter "OWGR guru" Nosferatu (@VC606), they will switch places yet again next week, even though there is no significant golf tournament, and neither player will be in action.

Hideki Matsuyama
Matsuyama tied for 44th in this woefully weak field and dropped another notch in the world rankings to No. 24. He began 2018 at No. 5. Every time, the Japanese star shows signs of reverting to elite status, he takes a step or two backward. We'll see Matsuyama again in two weeks at Tiger Wood's Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years. He was named 2020 "DFS Writer of the Year" by the FSWA and was nominated for the same award in 2019.
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