Howell breaks through in final PGA event at Kingsmill

Updated: October 6, 2002, 8:56 PM ET
Associated Press

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- Charles Howell III accomplished his top priority for the season by winning the Michelob Championship.

Charles Howell III
Charles Howell III earned his first title by shooting the lowest round of the day on Sunday.

Winning for the first time in his career was just gravy.

''When I started the year, my No. 1 goal was to make the Tour Championship and there was no question about that,'' Howell said Sunday after shooting a 4-under-par 67 -- the best of the day -- for a 14-under 270.

The victory was worth $666,000 and vaulted Howell from 37th place to 18th on the PGA Tour's money list for the season. He has nearly clinched a spot in this month's $5 million event for the year's top 30 money winners.

''It's hard to put into words. It really hasn't sunk in yet,'' said Howell, who scored a two-shot victory over Brandt Jobe and 1996 winner Scott Hoch.

The victory came in his 68th career start, and he was starting to get annoyed about questions if he felt overdue.

''After a while, you start listening to it,'' the 23-year-old Howell said. ''I know that ideally I'm not supposed to, but it starts to get in your head a little bit.''

Howell ended such talk with a clutch up-and-down birdie on No. 15. He had an eagle, four birdies and three bogeys on his card through 14 holes. He said challenging for the lead and giving shots back actually helped his game.

''I was just enough in contention to get nervous but I was just enough out of contention to get hacked off at myself for not being ahead,'' he said. ''So for the first win, I probably couldn't give a better scenario.''

Howell became the 14th first-time winner on the PGA Tour this year, tying the record set in 1991, and the sixth player to break through at this event. He's also the last since it was the 22nd and final PGA Tour event on the River Course, which will play host to the LPGA Tour next year.

Jobe, who matched Howell's birdie at No. 15 but bogeyed the next hole, drove into the rough on the par-4 finishing hole. He hit his second shot into the greenside rough, missed a chip to tie it and two-putted for 72.

''It was just a frustrating day because it was so close to being good and so close to being bad,'' Jobe said. ''It was kind of one of those days.''

Jobe's career best finish on the PGA Tour earned him $325,600.

Hoch's long putt gave him a 69 to match Jobe at 272. Geoff Oglivy was fourth at 273 after a 70 and Billy Mayfair finished at 274 after a 73.

The ending wasn't nearly as dramatic as the 15th hole, a 506-yard par 5 that often proves pivotal. Tied with Jobe at 13 under, Howell pulled his second shot over the green, chipped and dropped a 24-foot birdie putt.

The former NCAA champion then parred out. He missed a 10-foot putt for par on the 18th hole after a 311-yard drive and a radar-like approach.

''That's probably the best drive I have ever hit in my life, considering the circumstances,'' he said of No. 18, adding he thought he needed to make birdie. ''I couldn't feel my arms on that second shot.''

It proved not to matter. Jobe hit consecutive approaches short on No. 16, parred the 17th, and hit into the rough twice on the finishing hole. It was one last demonstration of how costly the rough could be.

The 16th hole was the killer, Jobe said.

''I'm at 14 under standing in the middle of the fairway and I've got a ball going straight at the hole, perfect,'' he said. ''If it flies two more yards, I'm probably at 15 under and leading the golf tournament. For me, that was the difference.''

Throughout Sunday, the leaders were Jobe, intent on certifying his nine victories overseas as legitimate; Mayfair, seeking to end a four-year winless drought; and Howell, looking for that his first victory.

Mayfair joined the also-rans on the 383-yard 14th hole when he drove into the rough, failed to get out on his next two shots, chunked a chip onto the greenside fringe, chipped well past the hole, and two-putted.

Corey Pavin, seeking his first victory since 1996 and the 15th of his career, twice got within two shots of the lead, then bogeyed each time.

Scott Hoch was three off the lead at the start and playing in the second-to-last group. He birdied three of the first six holes, bogeyed the other three and all but took himself out by following with seven straight pars.

Steve Flesch, seeking his first victory, was 4 under and within two of the lead after 11 holes, then double bogeyed the par-4 12th.

Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press