SANDWICH, England --- In all the talk about which American golfer might stem the tide of the global domination at the majors, Charles Howell hasn't gotten a lot of attention.
Few, however, are coming into the British Open at Royal St. George's any hotter.
With three consecutive top-five finishes -- including a tie for third at Aronimink two weeks ago that earned him a late qualification into the British -- Howell is playing the best summer golf of his career. In a game where three of the biggest events that define a player's career are staged from June through August, the timing is welcome.
"I wish I could say it was one thing but it wasn't -- it's just golf," Howell said of the recent turnaround that has him in the top 30 of the PGA Tour's points standings and top 100 in the world for the first time since 2007. "I generally haven't had my best tournaments in the summer, so it's nice to have some good finishes in the summer and shows I'm doing the right stuff."
The easiest thing to point to in the Augusta native's resurgence is his putter. Howell made the switch to a belly putter in late April at the tour event in Louisiana. For a player who had long been criticized for not getting the most out of his putting, it was a big change -- and one that is becoming more common among younger players.
"There's not the stigma attached to it like there used to be," Howell said of the longer-shafted belly putter. "Guys were almost admitting they were a bad putter if they went to a long putter. The way I looked at it was everybody I knew who used a long putter putted good -- like Tim Clark, Carl Pettersson, Adam Scott. I haven't quite gone the full length. I'm still a belly putter. I have something to fall back on."
Howell had been puttering around with a longer putter at his home for a couple of years before deciding to put it in play after some discussions with his caddie, Henry Diana. After two months, the awkwardness has worn off and the results have gotten consistently better.
"After a couple of weeks it felt average and I thought, 'Should I do this or should I not?'" he said. "I think every week subsequently I got a little more comfortable with it and now it just seems like I've used it forever."
Howell is quick to say that putting isn't his only area of improvement in a season that includes five top-10 finishes and 10 top-20s.
"It takes the whole game," he said. "I've putted well, but my iron game has been a lot better. I play the par 3s better, and I'm giving myself a lot more chances."
All of those things will come in handy this week at St. George's -- one of the more beguiling links in the British Open rotation. It was here in 2003 that Howell made his British Open debut, tying for 65th and agreeing with the premise that St. George's is "the world championship of pinball."
"I remember all the holes," he said Tuesday after a practice round in an uncommon north wind. "Being my first Open in '03, I thought this is just links golf. It's like this everywhere, right? Knowing what to expect now I think it helps a little more because you know where to hit it. You're not going to hit every fairway here and that's fine."
While the links are much tamer this time with a few expanded fairways and less penal rough, it's Howell's mind-set and experience about links golf that might serve him better this week.
"You have to learn the golf course," he said. "There's a lot of shapes and nuances to it that where to miss your shots is more meaningful."
Despite missing the cut in his past four British Open starts -- the last of which came at Turnberry in 2009 -- Howell isn't writing himself out as a contender in links golf.
"Playing in the wind is one thing and playing links golf is another," he said. "It takes experience and takes time. I remember Tom Watson saying he didn't like it when he first came over but he sort of learned it and obviously it worked out well for him."
Does his recent form increase his confidence to post another top-five -- this time in a major for the first time in his career?
"Obviously playing well, the confidence gets a little bit better," he said. "But coming to this place, which is so different than being in the states, it's more about being patient here and accepting results than trying to force your way through it."
The American contingent would certainly welcome another contender in the chase to catch up with the rest of the world.