Howell posts second 67; Tiger 6 back
HOUSTON -- Charles Howell III didn't expect to be the center of attention at the Tour Championship, no matter what kind of outrageous clothes he had on.
Howell was hard to ignore Friday at Champions Golf Club, not because of a turtleneck that was a blend of aqua and algae.
He went from pitiful to nearly perfect in one hole -- a bogey to an eagle on the scorecard -- for his second straight 4-under 67 that gave him a one-stroke lead over Fred Funk going into the weekend.
''There was a lot of buildup this week to Tiger and Vijay and who would be player of the year,'' Howell said. ''There wasn't a lot of attention on myself coming into here, just as there wasn't a lot on Fred Funk.
''I guess you come in here with not much attention and not much expectations from the media, and then you play well. Who knows?''
Eight players were tied for the lead at one point on a cool, overcast day at Champions Golf Club. Howell only needed two holes to separate himself from the others -- and leave Woods and Singh even further behind.
Howell was at 8-under 134 and will play in the final group Saturday with Funk (67).
Retief Goosen, coming off a victory last week at Innisbrook, was among those tied for the lead late in the round until he had to scramble for a bogey on the 17th hole. He shot 67 and was another stroke back at 136.
Woods, needing a victory for any chance of winning the PGA Tour money title, didn't make as many mistakes as he did it the first round. Then again, he didn't make any putts.
Woods finished with another 70 and was at 140, six strokes behind.
''Obviously, tomorrow is going to be a very important day to see if I can put myself in position come Sunday,'' Woods said.
Singh recovered with a 68 and was tied for 16th at 141. He only needs to finish in a three-way tie for third to win the money title, although the tight PGA Tour Player of the Year race could be a tossup if neither he nor Woods wins.
Perhaps everyone should have seen this coming from Howell.
While this is only his second Tour Championship for the top 30 on the money list, he has posted all six rounds in the 60s.
This is the second straight year Howell led after 36 holes in the PGA Tour finale.
''Maybe it's because it's the end of the year and I know that we have a break coming up,'' Howell said. ''It's kind of a nothing-to-lose mentality.''
Davis Love III finished much better Friday and shot 67. He also was at 140 and needs a victory for Player of the Year consideration.
Masters champion Mike Weir, the other top candidate, all but took himself out of contention by hitting into the water on the par-3 12th and making double bogey. He shot 73 and was 10 strokes behind.
Just about everyone else -- Woods included -- is still in it. Fourteen of the 31 players were within six shots of the lead.
''A lot of guys have a chance to win,'' Woods said. ''I'm right up there with those guys.''
Despite a sluggish performance, Woods was only two strokes out of the lead when he drove into the left rough on the par-5 ninth for the second straight day.
He went around and under a tree from 207 yards away and wound up 40 feet right of the hole for an unlikely chance at eagle and a share of the lead. But he hit it too hard, and tapped the putter against his head as the ball was rolling 18 feet past the hole. He made par.
Singh was solid, and much more successful on the greens.
He was still seven off the lead after his 68, but unlike Woods, the big Fijian does not have to win this week to clinch the PGA Tour money title. Besides, he still has designs on becoming the first repeat winner of the Tour Championship.
''I think I have a good chance,'' he said.
Much of that depends on Howell.
He made his only bogey with a 3-iron that missed its target 50 yards to the right on the par-3 12th, but all that did was get him going.
After a good drive on the par-5 13th, Howell laced a 4-iron into 10 feet for eagle. Then, he hit an 8-iron into 10 feet on the next hole for a birdie.
''The whole round was right in those three holes there,'' Howell said.
He added a birdie on the par-3 16th with an 8-iron to 12 feet to shoot the lowest round for the second straight day.
Howell has yet to make a three-putt on the Texas-sized greens, which he attributes to a lesson he got a few weeks ago from Leadbetter -- not David, but his wife, Kelly.
''She's indirectly on the payroll, as with any married couple,'' Howell said.
The happy-go-lucky Chris Riley was thrilled to be at the Tour Championship for the second straight year. He was on the bubble last week, and had to wriggle in a 3-foot par putt on the final hole just to make the cut.
He had a 68 Friday and was at 5-under 137.
''When I got here, I was able to kind of relax and play my own game,'' said Riley, who had a 68 Friday and was at 5-under 137.
Notes: Jeff Sluman needs to wait two more days before booking his reservations at Augusta National. Sluman seemingly got into The Masters last week by finishing 40th on the PGA Tour money list. Overlooked was Darren Clarke, who got into the Tour Championship because his World Golf Championship money was equivalent to top 30 on the money list. Clarke is 99th on the official money list, and a victory would move him into the top 40 -- and knock Sluman out. ... The cool weather was a lot better than the last time Riley came to Champions. That was the '93 U.S. Amateur, and the humidity was so stifling that Riley said he passed out and had to withdraw.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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