Howell co-leads Deere in search of elusive victory

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Denied a spot in the winner's circle two weeks ago, Charles Howell III is back at it this week at the John Deere Classic.

Howell missed nine weeks because of a rib injury earlier this season, but he nearly won the Quicken Loans National in his first start back. A final-round rally got him into a playoff, where he eventually lost to Kyle Stanley on the first extra hole. Howell is again atop the leaderboard, tied alongside Ollie Schniederjans, after a bogey-free 63 to get things started at TPC Deere Run.

Howell holds the Deere in a high esteem, as this is the event where he finished third back in 2000 while playing on a sponsor exemption to jumpstart his pro career.

"I went to Quicken Loans quite honestly not prepared to play well. I had only been hitting balls for four or five days prior to that event," Howell told reporters. "Expectations were extremely low and I played well. I know that's a good lesson for myself and all golfers. But yeah, then here this week, this is a tournament that's obviously very special to me."

Howell started quickly, with birdies on five of his first eight holes and seven over his first 11. He hit only 13 greens in regulation but converted all five of his scrambling opportunites, gaining more than four strokes against the field on the greens.

Howell has had a successful career, and at age 38 he recently eclipsed $33 million in career earnings. But he has won only twice on Tour, most recently at what was known as the Nissan Open in 2007 at Riviera. He has been a runner-up six times since then, most recently at TPC Potomac last month, but he's a little bit closer to win No. 3 after a strong start in the Quad Cities.

"Here it's about minimizing bogeys as much as you can and take advantage of the holes that you need to," Howell said. "The hard holes are still hard, and the easy holes you can take advantage of. But anyone this week that's going to contend to win, you're going to have to putt well for four days."