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Brew Master

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- Charles Howell III experienced two firsts here Sunday evening - one as sweet as sugar, the other resulted in 'Bitter-Beer Face.'
The 23-year-old won for the first time on Tour, capturing the Michelob Championship at Kingsmill. Traditionally at this event, the champion drinks a celebratory Anheuser Busch product on the 18th green during the awards ceremony. First, Howell was presented the trophy, then the check and then an ice-cold bottle of brew.
Young Charles - a self-described 'geek,' growing up in Georgia - had never had a beer in his life. Never, not even a sip. After much prodding from a crowd filled with Michelob devotees, Howell gave in. The resulting expression on his alcohol-virgin face should dissuade millions of young golf fans from ever even thinking of drinking a beer. Call it Howell's first Public Service Announcement.
Much to the horror of the dozens of Anheuser Busch executives gathered greenside, the repulsed Charles then grabbed a microphone and announced, 'I sure wasn't missing much.' It was an ironically appropriate ending to the Michelob Championship at Kingsmill, which disappears from the PGA Tour schedule after a 22-year run.
One would think there would be many more opportunities for Howell to toast victories. The young man has now accomplished what most pundits predicted as inevitable. Charles had done everything else. He earned his tour card last year playing with just sponsors' exemptions. He turned those opportunities into a million-dollar season that earned him Rookie of the Year honors.
Now, with this win, Howell has earned $1,928,647 and launched himself into the top 20 on this year's money list. He appears headed to the elite Tour Championship at season's end. His two-year total of $3,449,279 is the most money ever earned by a player in his first two tour campaigns (even more than Tiger). Charles also seems sure to pass Tiger in the record books with the most lucrative second year on tour (he trails Woods' record by $138,186).
Woods is mentioned as comparison for a reason. Ever since Howell was spotted crushing the ball as a skinny kid in Augusta, Ga., he has been touted as 'the next Tiger challenger.' Charles doesn't shy from the thought. 'If I were able to challenge Tiger, obviously in the years to come and all that,' he said, 'I can't imagine something more fun to do and more exciting every single week.'
Even though he weighs all of 152 pounds, Howell won at Kingsmill in very Tiger-like fashion. He overpowered the course. The par-71 track has three par-5s. For the week, Charles played those 12 holes at 11-under-par. That's 11 of his 14-under winning total.
On Sunday, when he started the day three strokes out of the lead, Howell went birdie, eagle, birdie on the three 5s. On the 516-yard seventh hole, Charles hit driver, 9-iron on his way to eagle. That's right - a 9-iron for his second shot to a par-5 sound like anyone else you know?
Howell's birdie on the par-5 15th gave him the lead for good. Oh, by the way, Charles hit a 3-wood off that tee and then hit a 250-yard 3-iron over the green. A most Tiger-like performance.
The skinny kid with a heavyweight's power is second on tour in the total-driving statistic to just one man - Woods.
The most intriguing match-up between Woods and Howell will most likely come in Augusta - at the major championship that Tiger dominates - in the town where Charles grew up.
Howell may have a secret weapon with him next April at the Masters. Just two months ago, he hooked up with a new caddie, Brendan McCartain. Brendan has been caddying here and in Europe for nine years. Three years ago, he was on the bag of Jose Maria Olazabal when the Spaniard won his second Masters.
Asked if he was eager to team with Howell at the next Masters, a wide smile of anticipation spread across his face and McCartain said, 'That could be fun.'