Howell Returns Home
He didn't have other hobbies. Once his father joined Augusta Country Club, the course next door to the Masters and just five miles from his house, Howell went to school, played golf and worked out.
On weekends, he played golf and worked out.
'I've always said I was a dork, but I guarantee you I was one of the happiest kids ever,' Howell said. 'All I did was play golf and work out, but that's all I wanted to do.'
His parents made him go to the senior prom.
'One of the girls in his class wanted to go, and somehow word got back to his mom and I,' said Charles Howell Jr., a pediatric surgeon in Augusta. 'We thought he ought to go out of respect for the school. We beat him into submission, and he went. His class was so shocked that they voted him prom king.'
At Oklahoma State, where Howell won the 2000 NCAA championship as a junior, he married the first girl he kissed, Heather Myers of Kingfisher, Okla.
Howell brought his bride to Augusta National last April, but they stayed for only an hour. Howell was upset he was on the wrong side of the ropes, and he vowed never to return until he had an invitation to play.
'I was miserable,' he said.
The formal invitation arrived in the mail shortly before Christmas, capping an amazing run for a 22-year-old player touted as the best young star on the PGA Tour.
At this time last year, Howell wasn't even a PGA Tour member and had to rely on sponsors' exemptions to get into tournaments. He still managed to win more than $1.5 million to earn his card and finish No. 45 in the world ranking.
Desperate to play in the Masters, Howell traveled halfway around the world to the Australian Open during Thanksgiving week to make sure he was in the world's top 50 at year's end.
Every time he played in the U.S. Amateur, he reminded himself that the finalists are invited to Augusta National. The closest he came was in 1996, when he lost to Tiger Woods in the quarterfinals as a 17-year-old.
'I walked off the green and cried,' Howell said. 'I wanted to beat him, and I wanted to be in the Masters. I've wanted to play there for so long. In my first U.S. Amateur, I was the youngest to qualify -- I was 15 -- and I still thought that year I could get in the Masters.'
Howell figures the Masters has been his destiny, and not just because he was born and raised in the city of golf's most famous dateline.
His grandfather used to get four tickets to the Masters, and Howell went for the first time in 1987. That was the year Augusta native Larry Mize beat Greg Norman in a playoff with a 140-foot chip for birdie on No. 11.
'The first Masters I went to and a guy from Augusta wins it. That made it even more special,' Howell said. 'Larry Mize was a god. Are you kidding? I've still got it on tape at home. It was awesome.'
Three years later, a member invited Howell and his father to play Augusta National. Howell parred the 18th hole to shoot 79. He was 10.
Howell missed the cut last week in Atlanta for the first time in 25 tournaments, the longest active streak on the PGA Tour behind Woods.
No matter. The Masters is here.
'I'm looking forward to it more than you can imagine,' he said.
Howell is writing a daily diary for The Augusta Chronicle, and on Monday his lead was: 'I think I can win the tournament.'
He certainly has all the tools.
Even though Howell is 5-foot-10 and as thin as a 1-iron, he is one of the biggest hitters in golf, generating enormous clubhead speed to launch drives that are high and long. Howell is eighth in total driving, a combination of distance and accuracy. In another gauge of his length, he leads the tour by making the most birdies on par 5s.
Putting could be what holds him back. A month ago, Howell realized his alignment was out of whack and he has been tinkering with his putter ever since.
As for history? That's not exactly in his favor, either.
The last player who won the Masters in his debut was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, the year Howell was born. Then again, Howell is hardly a rookie, having played the course just about every May with employees or caddies.
He figures to be one of the most popular players in the 89-man field.
The Chronicle is conducting a telephone poll this week for readers to pick the Masters' winner. Howell is the early leader, with a three-vote margin over Woods. Across the street from Augusta National, a convenience store used soda cans Monday to spell, 'Go Charles.'
'I've always joked that if I ever won the Masters, I would retire the next day,' Howell said. 'Because I don't care about anything else.'
More Masters News
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.