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Howell finishes strong while others go for adventure

2/21/2003

LOS ANGELES -- Tiger Woods took a mighty swing and hit the
ball about six inches. Nick Price finished his round by chipping in
from 90 feet, which topped the 60-foot chip he made earlier. David
Duval rolled one in from 80 feet off the green.

The second round of the Nissan Open was full of surprises
Friday, the biggest belonging to Charles Howell III.

He was in the lead.

Howell finished with back-to-back birdies for a 6-under 65,
giving him a one-stroke lead over Price going into the weekend at
Riviera Country Club.

That Howell had the best score, 8-under 134, over two days at
tough Riviera was not unusual. He has a ton of talent and pounds
the ball so far that he had only a sand wedge left for his approach
into the historic, 451-yard 18th hole at Riviera.

Howell just had no idea what was going on around him.

''I don't pay attention to leaderboards,'' he said. ''I don't
think anything good comes out of that.''

Imagine his surprise when he walked up to the 18th green and saw
the large white scoreboard with his name at the top.

The next chore is staying there.

Price turned two long chip-ins for birdies into a 4-under 67 and
was at 135, one stroke ahead of defending champion Len Mattiace
(67).

PGA champion Rich Beem had a 65 and was at 4-under 138, followed
by a large group that included Duval and free-falling Fred Funk.

Howell was the rookie of the year in 2001 and won his first PGA Tour
event last year. Still, he conceded he needs to win a tournament
with Woods in the field to feel as though he has earned his keep.

He is six strokes clear, a margin that might have been smaller
except for one bad drive and one bad break that changed everything
for Woods.

He nearly whiffed a shot out of thick rough on No. 7, leading to
double-bogey, and he finished with a bogey when his drive hung on
the steep slope of a bunker. Woods still had a 68 and was only six
strokes behind.

''One bad swing cost me a couple of shots,'' said Woods, who was
at 2-under 140. ''Overall, I'm pleased with the way I played today -- real solid.''

Funk, who had a three-stroke lead to the start the second round,
went the other direction in a hurry. He was at 8-under through 11
until a horrid stretch -- three bogeys, followed by a double bogey
at No. 15.

He wound up with a 74 and was in a large group at 3-under 139
that included Duval, who had a few adventures of his own -- most of
them good.

All of them will be chasing Howell, whom Price called ''pound-for-pound, the longest hitter of the ball.''

Price might be right,
considering Howell is no more than 150 pounds, even wearing his
clothes suited for Monday night at the bowling alley.

''I've known Charlie since he was 10,'' Price said. ''He was a
skinny little kid who hit more balls than I've ever seen a
10-year-old hit. And he hasn't changed.''

Still, Riviera is all about strategy.

Howell knows that game, too. He played to all the right spots
around the knobby greens and showed a deft short game when he
erred.

''I have a good feeling here,'' said Howell, who had a 64 in the
third round last year. ''I hope it stays.''

Woods had a good feeling, too, especially when he was two
strokes off the lead and in complete control of his game. That
changed with one swing that set off a chain reaction of problems.

Barely able to see his ball in shin-high grass, Woods swung a
sand wedge with all his might and watched the ball dribble about six inches. The best he could do from there was hack it across the
seventh fairway into a bunker.

He wound up with a double-bogey, but kept his perspective. All
that did was turn a spectacular round into a satisfactory one.

Duval played with Woods for the first two rounds and showed that
there are all kinds of ways to post a score.

Duval was in the trees, in the rough, behind a waist-high picket
fence high on a hill over the 18th green, but managed to get out of
one jam after another. He somehow finished with a 1-under 70 and
was at 3-under 139.

Word of his wild round spread quickly. Hours later while on the
practice range, Pat Perez asked for permission to touch his wedges,
then furiously rubbed them over his clothes.

''You're unbelievable,'' said Perez, who played behind the
Duval-Woods group and saw just about every shot.

From the left rough on No. 15, Duval split the uprights of two
tall trees to escape with par. After chipping through the green on
No. 2, he chipped in from 30 feet on the fringe to save par.

His 2-iron on No. 4 stopped short in the fringe, and Duval holed
a putt from 80 feet.

''I'm aiming at the fringe,'' Duval said. ''I've only chipped in
three times this week.''

Howell is going about the more conventional way. He missed only
four greens in the second round, and he didn't miss a thing by not
looking at the leaderboard.

Notes
Mark Calcavecchia had knee surgery earlier this week to
repair damaged cartilage in his right knee. He hopes to return
March 13 at the Honda Classic. Calcavecchia did not qualify for the
Match Play Championship next week. ... Matt Gogel made a
hole-in-one with a 6-iron from 163 yards on the 16th hole. ...
Among those missing the cut were Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie
and David Toms.