Howell entered the Honda Classic at No. 9 in the FedEx Cup standings, with the top 10 after that event qualifying for Mexico. Howell would have remained inside the top 10 if either Rickie Fowler or Gary Woodland finished worse than fifth at PGA National, but he could only watch as a 1-2 finish from Fowler and Woodland bumped him to No. 11 and out of the no-cut event.
“It was kind of a shock that could only happen in the game of golf,” Howell said. “You look up at that leaderboard, with a tough golf course and a bunch of wind, and yeah. I was a bit shocked on that one.”
Howell used the unexpected week off to refocus his efforts, and he opened with a 4-under 67 at Innisbrook to sit five shots behind leader Jim Herman.
Howell is a veteran of bubble sweats, and he has another one to endure this week. He’s No. 65 in the world rankings, knowing that only the top 64 after this week will qualify for the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship.
“I’ve done more research on the world rankings system as of late than I think I have ever, figuring out how that system works,” he said. “It kind of feels like trying to understand health care laws a little bit, trying to figure that system out.”
Howell is aware that a few top-ranked withdrawals may grant him some extra breathing room, but he’s also cognizant of the fact that a trip to Austin is likely necessary if he hopes to crack the OWGR top 50 by March 27 – a feat that would net the Augusta, Ga., native a return to the Masters.
“I know that I need to play well, and play well often, if I want to get to Augusta,” he said.