Howell On The Verge
Maybe the superlatives used to describe promising young players such as Charles are unfair. Maybe the expectations of greatness at such a young age can produce consequences. Maybe the PGA Tour is harder than we think, and harder than Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia , Adam Scott, and other young players have made it look. Or maybe, the aforementioned players are just that gifted. Or maybe, just maybe, all of this is just hogwash and Charles is underachieving. Good food for thought, or even debate perhaps, but answers are tough to discern. Wait, I think I still have Dionne Warwick on speed-dial.
Ring. Ring. Ring. A scratchy female voice answers: Hello, you've reached the Psychic Friends Network. What is your credit card number, please?
Me: Will Charles Howell III ever live up to his hype?
Dionne, or similar: Even the pundits say he should, the analysts are still singing his praises 'When was my last singing hit, by the way?' and he's still young enough to have a great career. Remember, this is only his fifth season, and his world ranking, his position on the money list recently, and his peers opinions all point to success for Chuckie three sticks. Let me glare into my crystal ball for a moment. Oops, it's getting a bit hazy. Anybody have some Visine? What was your credit card number again?
Me: When will he start to win consistently?
A suddenly defensive psychic replies: It could be soon, very soon. But remember, soon can be somewhat subjective. Maybe in the big picture, soon is this week, or this decade, or perhaps even this lifetime. Speaking of lifetimes, do you have Shirley MacLaine's number handy? I'm wondering if I'll go platinum in my next life, or a former one, or did I in this one? Expiration date please?
Me: Thanks Dionne. How's the weather in San Jose? Loved you in Rent-A-Cop. You've been helpful. The check's in the mail.
So what does the future hold for Charles Howell III? Ultimately, only time will tell. The clock certainly hasn't begun to accelerate its clicking yet, and nobody on the PGA Tour or closely associated with it thinks there's any sense of urgency for Charles to start producing multiple victories yet. The prevailing sentiment is still similar to that which surrounded David Duval as late as 1996'When he starts to win, look out.
Charles has one win'the 2002 Michelob Championship'and six career runner-up finishes. He seems to be right on the brink of contention just about every week. He never seems to struggle with any part of his game for more than a week. And he leaves no stone unturned in his preparation to be the best. So what's missing?
The PGA Tour is hard. The difference from winning and guys losing their card is not very much, Charles told me recently. I want people to think that I'm supposed to play well, that I'm supposed to win. That's far better than them not expecting me to do well. I think that late last year I saw a few flaws in my game and I'm glad that I didn't play well enough to mask them. I've been working on my game very hard in the off-season, and I feel like I'm going to play well this year.
Charles ended the interview by lamenting that he knows time is still on his side. It's a long year on tour. If I get off to a good start, that'll be great, but if I don't, I know I'll still have plenty of chances.
The only thing that Charles seems to be missing is W's. That will surely change. Hopefully, it will happen before he has to answer more questions like mine regarding why he hasn't done so yet. But even if it doesn't, in time, he'll get his share.
Up at the crack of dawn for an extended workout with his trainer. Then, practice all day (often under the watchful eye of David Leadbetter). Followed by practice at his in-home studio with video cameras and computer analysis. All the while, no real hobbies, not so much as a drop of alcohol, and no other vices of any type. It sounds like a single-minded focus with only one true objective, and it appears exactly that way. So what's the payoff?
Well, it's been this way since I was about seven years old, and I hope to be doing exactly the same thing 'til the day I die. Golf is my hobby. This life'this golfing life'is all he's ever known.
Charles gives the impression that victories would be nice, but not as essential as we might assume. His self esteem isn't inexorably linked to his trophy case'he's too nice, too modest for that. I just want to keep improving, he said. Everything else will take care of itself.
And when it does, we'll all be shouting I told you so. After all, that's what friends are for.
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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.