Rapidly adapting to the rigors of the PGA Tour, Charles Howell surged up the Greater Hartford Open leaderboard Friday to make the cut and ensure his first PGA Tour paycheck.
Firing a 67 in Round 2, Howell completed the first two days 2-under par. The Augusta native is nine shots behind co-leaders Notah Begay III and Mark Calcavecchia.
Howell exhibited the poise displayed during his run to the 2000 NCAA individual and team championships as a junior at Oklahoma State. He recorded six birdies at the Tournament Players Club at River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn. Howell enters Round 3 tied for 51st place (138).
Although he bettered his first-round score by four strokes, Howell said the conditions were more difficult Friday. Constant winds made for faster greens but did not prevent Howell from moving up the leaderboard.
"I was a little more settled down (Friday)," Howell said in a telephone interview. "It will be easier (playing this weekend). I'll approach it the same way. You know you'll get a check, and you want to shoot as low as you can."
A trio of birdies on Nos. 13-15 extended Howell's stay in Cromwell. A bogey on No. 5 dropped the former Westminster Prep prodigy two shots over par for the tournament. He shot 1-over-par 71 Thursday.
Following his second bogey of the Greater Hartford Open, the 21-year-old registered birdies on three of the next four holes.
After shooting 33 on the front nine, Howell bogeyed Nos. 10 and 12 to dip back to 1-over. Steady play in the middle of the back nine allowed him to survive his professional debut. Howell's ticket to the weekend was punched when he mastered Nos. 13-15.
Howell two-putted for birdie on No. 13. Then, drained a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 14. On the 300-yard par-4 15th, Howell's tee shot cleared the green. He didn't sulk. Howell chipped onto the green and converted the birdie putt.
"I played well on the front nine and then had a few hiccups on 10 and 12," said Howell, whose bag is being carried by Paul Azinger's caddie Terry Holt. "It was nerve-wracking trying to get used to it and make the cut."
The winner pockets $504,000 of the $2.8 million purse. The PGA Tour's prize money distribution chart shows the golfer finishing 50th receives $7,280 while a 25th-place showing is worth $24,640.
If Howell continues his ascent up the leaderboard -- he climbed 48 places on Friday -- he could take his first step toward securing his 2001 PGA card.
Halfway through his initial pro tournament, Howell has discovered the vast talent gap between college and the PGA Tour. He is debuting at the same site David Duval, Justin Leonard and Stewart Cink began their careers. Howell and his successful PGA peers each shot 71s in their inaugural professional rounds.
"One shot is about 20 places," Howell said. "One shot could also cost you 20 places. These are the best players in the world."
Reach Jimmy DeButts at (706) 823-3221.
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