See you in Augusta

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"I'll be home for Masters

You can count on me ..."

- Charles Howell's theme song, sung to the tune of

I'll Be Home for Christmas

Phil Mickelson may think it was a late Christmas gift he gave Charles Howell III. The popular lefty and reigning Masters champion seemed in control most of the way this past weekend, after all.

But Howell had to step up and earn the Nissan Open championship in a dramatic three-hole playoff in Los Angeles on Sunday, ending a five-year tournament title drought and solidifying his chances to be in his native town of Augusta come Masters week.

The monkey on Howell's back - nine second-place finishes since his lone tournament win in 2002 - may have been the world's smallest: Howell has clearly established himself as one of the top golfers in the world. But fair or not, the monkey may have been there until his winning putt at the Nissan on Sunday.

He can win the big one.

But they do get bigger - and Howell was mindful of coming back to Augusta and chasing the green jacket.

And how special to have a native son in the chase.

"The place is so darn special to me," Howell said Sunday.

It's special, period.

"See you in Augusta," CBS announcer Jim Nantz told his colleagues while signing off Sunday. You could hear the anticipation in his voice.

Nantz's excitement, Howell's probable entry and the slowly warming temperatures this week are all reminders that Masters Week is only a few weeks away.

If Charles Howell III and his comrades can't wait, neither can we.


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