By Graham Maguire
An emotional Charles Howell III overcame a disastrous start to his final round at the RSM Classic in Georgia to defeat Patrick Rodgers in a play-off and end a 12-year wait for another PGA Tour tournament win.
A birdie at the second play-off hole ended the 4,291-day drought for the 39-year-old American after a horror fourth round start, a bogey at his first hole followed by a double-bogey at the second.
“I haven’t been able to pull it off for so long,” a tearful Howell, who dropped to his knees and buried his head in his hands after making the winning putt, told Golf Channel.
Howell twice narrowly missed long birdie putts at the 18th which would have won the tournament — at the end of his fourth round of three-under-par 67 and at the first play-off hole — before finally sinking a 15-footer for the title.
“I just thought ‘Don’t leave this one short. Whatever you do ... knock it off the green, but don’t leave it short’,” he added.
Howell’s last win on tour came in February 2007 at the Los Angeles Open and he had lost two play-offs in the intervening years.
He had plenty of that on Sunday. Both he and Rodgers finished 18 holes at 19-under 263 with Rodgers, who has never won on the PGA Tour, lighting up the Seaside Course at Sea Island with eight birdies in a bogey-free round for a sparkling eight-under 62.
Webb Simpson narrowly missed the play-off, finishing one stroke back in third after a closing 65.
Both Howell and Rogers parred the first play-off hole but Rodgers missed a birdie attempt at the second hole to give Howell a third opportunity to seal the deal.
Just getting to the play-off, however, had been a struggle for Howell, who led the first three days of the tournament and started his final round with a one-stroke lead.
He responded with birdies at the fifth, sixth, and 10th holes to get back to par for the day before three birdies in a row from the 15th put him back amongst the leaders. “To get to make that birdie putt on 16 was big. That just gave me a chance,” Howell said.
Rodgers kept applying the pressure, connecting on a birdie putt at 18 to tie the score, forcing Howell to play two more holes to win the title. “Golf is a brutal game,” Howell said. “The highs of highs, it comes with a lot of really low lows. It’s a wonderful lesson to be learned that if you truly believe in what you’re doing, to stay the course.”