At the very least, he’s got no pressure since he assured himself of qualifying for an invitation last year.
“The new has worn off, so to speak,” the Augusta native said Friday after shooting 68 in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge. “I’ve played the golf tournament enough. It’s a challenge, obviously. It’s always a tournament you want to be in. You don’t want to miss that one, for sure.”
Howell moved into a tie for 15th at 3-under-par 141, seven shots off the lead shared by Tiger Woods and Charlie Wi.
Howell played his last Masters in 2008, his seventh consecutive start.
He failed to qualify in 2009, 2010 and 2011 but rallied last season to finish 25th on the PGA Tour money list (his best finish since 2007). That got him his Masters invitation.
Howell also is changing his routine a bit. He played five times on the PGA Tour’s West Coast Swing, then backed off a bit in recent weeks. He will pass on the Shell Houston Open next week (he’s played that event seven of the past nine years) to get in more practice rounds at Augusta National.
Howell has made 7 of 8 cuts this season and has three finishes among the top 20. He tied for second at the Sony Open.
Two closing bogeys after missing par-putt attempts of 7 and 4 feet cost Howell a chance to be among the top-10 entering the weekend at Bay Hill. He three-putted the 17th green from 55 feet and failed to get up-and-down at No. 18 after hitting his second shot into the back bunker.
Before that, Howell was solid. He birdied five of 10 holes at one point, draining a 25-foot birdie putt at Nos. 3 and 10.
Even a bogey during that stretch wasn’t that bad. Howell hit his tee shot into the water at the par-4 11th hole, but knocked his third shot onto the green and two-putted.
He bounced back with 5-foot birdie putts at Nos. 12 and 14, and two-putted for birdie at the par-5 16th hole.
“I played good today,” he said. “It was a shame there at the last, but it’s all right, it’s golf. The course was a little more ‘gettable.’ There was less wind and the greens were a lot better than (Thursday afternoon) when they got really crusty. There were good scores to be had.”