CHICAGO: Charles Howell III, trying to snap a decade-long win drought, fired a bogey-free eight-under par 63 Thursday (Friday in Manila) to match fellow American Ollie Schniederjans for the first-round lead at the US PGA John Deere Classic.
Howell, who settled for his 16th career PGA runner-up finish two weeks ago in Washington, is playing his 295th event since last winning a US tour event at Riviera in 2007 by beating Phil Mickelson in a playoff.
South Africa’s Rory Sabbatini shared third on 65 with Americans Chad Campbell, Patrick Rodgers and Zach Johnson, the 2015 British Open champion.
Howell, playing for a third consecutive week after returning from a 10-week layoff for a fractured rib, booked a spot in next week’s British Open with his latest second-place effort.
The 38-year-old Augusta, Georgia, native would love nothing better this week than to enter his first major since the 2015 PGA Championship, and first British Open since 2012, by ending his victory hoodoo. His best result in 40 major starts was a share of 10th at the 2003 PGA.
Howell opened on the back nine with back-to-back birdies, his first birdie putt from six feet and second from twice as far, added another at 14 and struck for back-to-back birdies again at the par-3 16th and par-5 17th, putting his approach two feet from the cup on the former and two-putting from 75 feet on the latter.
After opening his second nine with back-to-back birdies as well, Howell made six pars and sank his longest putt of the day from 26 feet for a birdie at the par-3 seventh.
Schneiderjans, 24, is making a run at improving on his best career PGA finish, a share of third at the Heritage last April, and taking the lone available spot on offer for next week’s British Open at Royal Birkdale.
He opened birdie-birdie on 10 and 11 as well and drove the green at 14 to set up a tap-in birdie. He birdied 17 but stumbled to his lone bogey at 18, finding rough right off the tee and only reaching the fringe on his approach.
The former world amateur number one responded with birdies at the par-5 second and par-3 third, sinking a 26-foot birdie putt at the latter. He added an eight-foot birdie putt at six and closed with back-to-back birdie putts from about nine feet to grab a share of the lead. AFP