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After String of Runner-Ups Howell Back on Top

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2007 Nissan OpenLOS ANGELES -- Charles Howell III remembers the first time he stepped inside Tiger Woods' house. There was a TV in the living room, and a mantle above the fireplace with four silver trophies from the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship.
 
Howell only had a trophy from the Michelob Championship, a tournament that now exists on the LPGA Tour.
 
'He probably wondered what was wrong with me because I just sat there bit a mesmerized,' Howell said. 'Here you have it. You've got all four majors sitting right there.'
 
While the Nissan Open won't be mistaken for a claret jug, it felt like a major to Howell.
 
After going 4 1/2 years and 127 starts on the PGA TOUR without winning, Howell ended his drought with a playoff victory Sunday at Riviera that was surprising on two fronts -- the late fade by Phil Mickelson, and the clutch putts made by Howell.
 
Howell couldn't wait another day.
 
He was labeled a future star when he won the NCAA title at Oklahoma State in 2000, captured his first PGA TOUR event two years later at Kingsmill and made the Presidents Cup team the following year.
 
But something always kept him from winning. There were nine runner-up finishes since his only trophy, including two of them this year. His poor chip on the 18th hole in Honolulu cost him a chance, and he was beaten by Woods down the coast at Torrey Pines three weeks ago.
 
Howell was reminded of his shortcomings at every turn in the playoff, but he erased those memories by making the clutch putts, the big chip and the key pars.
 
When he tapped in the 3-footer to win, he closed his eyes and tilted his head to the skies, hugging caddie Jimmie Johnson. His voice cracked when asked to go over his emotions, and when he mentioned the support he got from his father, along with swing coach David Leadbetter and his staff.
 
'They never thought anything I was doing wasn't eventually going to pay off,' Howell said. 'It was never a point where we thought, 'This is no good, you've lost it,' or anything like that. This game can beat you up pretty good, and you see a lot of guys who never recover. I've got great people around me to help get me out of that.'
 
Now he back book a trip home to Augusta, Ga.
 
Howell's first goal at the start of the year was to get into the top 50 in the world ranking by the end of March to qualify for the Masters. Having ended last year at No. 82, his victory moved him up to No. 16, essentially securing a tee time at his favorite course.
 
He also hoisted another trophy, which was more important.
 
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