- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Kemper Open competitor Charles Howell III has just two weeks left to earn a chance for a PGA Tour card.
The 21-year-old Howell, who will be making his sixth Tour start of the season this week at TPC at Avenel, is attempting to follow in the footsteps of former college phenoms Tiger Woods (1996) and Justin Leonard (1994), who bypassed the Tour's grueling Qualifying School and played their way into membership status using only sponsor's exemptions.
"You look at those two guys as the only two players who have done it this way in a long while, and it's pretty clear that this is a pretty tough task," Howell said yesterday. "But knowing what a difficult challenge it is might help me a little in that I feed off of that. It might not be the easiest way to get out here, but it sure is exciting. And I don't really feel like it's that much pressure, probably because I've played competitively for a number of years now, and it seems to me that most pressure is self-imposed."
Players are allowed to accept seven sponsor's exemptions in a given season. If they make enough in those seven starts to surpass the 150th player on the previous season's money list, then they are granted unlimited sponsor's exemptions for the remainder of the season.
Howell has parlayed his five starts this season into $237,290, leaving him just $9,747 short of the $247,037 Brett Quigley earned to finish 150th on the Tour's money list last year. He has two starts to make up the difference this week's Kemper Open and next week's Memorial.
"Obviously, the first goal is to make enough over the next couple of weeks to stay out here," Howell said. "But I think another top-10 finish is a practical target. After all, I come to every tournament trying to win it and thinking I can win it, and that makes making the cut or whatever else seem a lot easier."
If victory talk sounds a bit ambitious, consider Howell's results so far this season. Sandwiched between his three missed cuts (Bay Hill Invitational, Houston Open and Byron Nelson Classic), Howell finished tied for sixth at the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta and alone in seventh at the Compaq Classic of New Orleans.
That's vintage Howell. Erratic? Unquestionably. But when the Augusta, Ga., native is in form, he's a serious force. Just ask the field he blitzed at last year's NCAA championships, where the Oklahoma State junior took the college crown by a record eight-stroke margin with a record score of 23-under at Grand National Golf Course in Opelika, Ala.
"He's a machine when he gets it going," said David Leadbetter, Howell's longtime swing instructor, when asked about his new wave of pupils at the Masters. "At his best, he can play with anyone."
Ask an insider to reel off a short list of youngsters most likely to enter the tame-the-Tiger derby, and the three names you hear most often are Virginia's James Driscoll, Georgia's Erik Compton and Howell.
After all, Howell pushed Woods to the brink at the 1996 U.S. Amateur, losing 1-down to the two-time defending champion in the early rounds at Pumpkin Ridge despite being the youngest qualifier in the field.
Like Woods, Howell possesses pill-shrieking power despite his slight frame (5-foot-10, 170 pounds). In fact, in his five Tour starts this season Howell has averaged better than 291 yards off the tee, a prodigious figure that would tie him with Woods as the Tour's eighth-longest hitter if he was eligible to be listed among the PGA's statistical leaders. And every week Howell mixes with the game's gargantuans, he feels more comfortable in their presence.
"The more I play, the better off I get, and I do feel like I'm getting close," said Howell, who turned pro last June after winning the NCAA title. "I had a chance to play out here quite a lot last year, and this year that maturation process has continued. I've spent a good deal of time with the players out here now, and I've seen enough of the course setups that I've got a good idea what to expect and what's required for success. Overall, I guess I'm just getting to the point where I feel more like I belong."
A 48th-place finish or better this week will earn Howell enough money to keep him hobnobbing inside the ropes for the rest of the season. But Howell knows the Kemper Open has a history of affording young players the ultimate in professional respect; the tournament has produced nine first-time winners over the years.
"Oh, I'm well aware of that," Howell said. "To go ahead and win, that would sure make that $9,000 or whatever a little easier to come by, wouldn't it? Hey, why not?"


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