NORTH PLAINS, Ore. - Charles Howell had the poise but not the game to play the world's best amateur.
The 17-year-old Howell, a senior at Westminster, made another great comeback in the second round to advance to a Thursday afternoon match against Tiger Woods in the U.S. Amateur on the Witch Hollow Course at Pumpkin Ridge.
Howell, who won the last two holes of his opening match and then took the match on the sixth hole of sudden death on Wednesday, again won the last two holes Thursday morning to oust Patrick O'Brien 1-up.
As Howell came off the 18th green after his victory over O'Brien, a voice from the NBC tower was directed at him.
"You've got to go through him (Woods) to get to the championship," said NBC analyst Johnny Miller. "You might as well do it now."
Howell, the nation's No. 1 junior, gave it a shot, twice evening the match on the front nine. But Woods, the two-time defending champion and nation's No. 1 amateur, turned up the heat on the back side for a 3 and 1 victory, his 15th consecutive win in this tourney.
"It was a very positive win for me," said Woods, who ousted 1995 Mid Am champion Jerry Courville 4 and 2 in the morning. "Charles is very long and a tough player."
"Well, I didn't lose 10 and 8 so I'm happy," Howell said. "I knew I would have to play real, real good to beat him and I didn't play good enough to beat Tiger Woods."
When asked to compare Howell with himself at age 17, Woods replied, "At 17, he's a lot straighter than I was off the tee. It's unusual how high he hits his driver."
"He's always been a tough competitor, " said Howell's father, Charles. "He has a good game and I paid plenty for it," the Augusta pediatric surgeon said jokingly about his son's golf lessons.
Howell missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the first hole which would have given him the early lead over Woods.
After Woods made a 7-foot birdie putt on the 168-yard second for a win, Howell returned the favor with a birdie on the par-5, 533-yard fourth after two-putting from 20 feet.
Howell knocked a 4-wood 220 yards on the par-5, 533-yard hole to set up a 20-foot eagle putt. With Woods coming out a green-side bunker, Howell rolled his putt to within 3 inches of the hole to win with birdie.
Woods regained the lead with an 8-foot birdie on the 205-yard fifth, a par-3 guarded by water along the entire front of the green.
Howell tied it again with a difficult up-and-down par on the 446-yard sixth hole after Woods hit his second shot in the water in front of the green.
On the 382-yard, par-4 eighth, Howell's tee shot caught a tree less than 100 yards off the tee. He couldn't get up and down from 70 yards and Woods regained the lead at 1-up with a par.
Woods opened the gap to 3-up by winning the par-3 12th with a par when Howell couldn't get up and down from the back bunker and the 410-yard, par-4 13th with a 10-foot birdie putt.
Woods closed the match out with a conceded 5-footer for birdie after Howell came out of a bunker and left himself with a 7-foot putt for par.
The largest galleries in U.S. Amateur history continued to throng the Pumpkin Ridge course in near perfect weather. Thursday's play brought out 9,216, by far the biggest single day crowd in Am history.
"It's great to play in front of people," said Howell, whose previous biggest gallery was 1,500 for the U.S. Junior. "I enjoyed it very much."
"I don't pay any attention to the crowds," said Woods, who has played before many large galleries. "But the people here are very supportive. They cheer any good shot."
In his morning match, Howell was 2-down with five holes to play but made his usual late move. A birdie on the par-5 14th and par on the par-4 17th evened the match. Howell got up and down for birdie from a green-side bunker on the par-5 finishing hole to win.
On the classic risk-reward 18th hole, a 545-yard, par-5 which crosses enviornmentally sensitive land twice, Howell hit a perfect drive and took control when O'Brien had to lay up after hitting his drive in the rough.
Another up-and-down from a green-side bunker produced a winning birdie when Howell made the 6-foot putt.
"I gave it my best shot," said Howell. "I didn't approach playing Tiger differently than any other match. I'll just keep working hard."