Welcome to the end of Charles Howell's upstream swim into the mainstream of professional golf.
In spite of all obstacles, Howell is approaching the headwaters. In spite of all bureaucratic shackles, he is among the game's elite.
He hasn't won a tournament - yet - but the Official World Rankings reflect the fact that Augusta's own Charles Howell III has "arrived."
Howell leaped from 65th to 50th in the world rankings after his third-place finish at the Michelob Championship. Howell began the 2001 season with no PGA Tour status and a ranking of 324th.
If he stays in the top 50 until the end of the season, Howell will have fulfilled his most coveted goal of qualifying to play in the 2002 Masters. That would be a big relief, not only for Howell but for Masters officials who would have been faced with the dilemma of possibly excluding the hometown star who fairly qualified for invitation in every way except semantics.
Beyond that, a top-50 ranking can mean inclusion into World Golf Championship events and the other big-time perks that perpetuate the status of golf's most elite superstars.
Howell's consistent success in the face of sustained challenges says a lot about the young man. He's battled through so many rules changes that the PGA Tour keeps having to remedy the process to undo the mess they've created. The most recent Howell addendum to PGA Tour policy became effective in September when the board voted to allow any special temporary member whose money winnings are equal to the top 30 to be added to the field of the season-ending Tour Championship. Howell's $1.373 million would rank 36th, with three tournaments remaining to move up.
But to truly understand just how difficult Howell's ascension in the rankings is, you'd need a Ph.D. in mathematics. The calculation of the Official World Rankings is a complex procedure full of weighted fields and sliding scales and two-year devaluation principles.
In essence, a player's ranking is devised by totaling the points a player earns in a two-year period and dividing it by the number of events played. But there's a catch - the minimum divisor is 40 events. So while Howell has only played in 33 official PGA Tour events since turning pro in the summer of 2000, his points earned have been divided by 40 since day one.
Suffice to say that the ranking system works heavily against a young player such as Howell who is just breaking into the system.
"Up to now he's been trying to overcome that barrier," said Steve Rankin, the vice president of corporate affairs for the PGA Tour, who understands the world rankings better than most. "Howell is starting to get into that rarified air where it will take a number of significant results to keep moving up."
Now that he's here, Howell isn't likely to slip out of the top 50 this year. In each of the three events he has left to play - Las Vegas, Disney and the Buick Challenge - he missed the cut last year. That means he has only points to gain and nothing to lose - and it will still be divided by 40.
Bank on this: Howell has arrived at the top of the golf food chain. He's swimming with the big fish - and it only gets better from here.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.
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