2018 did not want to end without one more significant winless drought coming to a long-awaited end.
This time, at The RSM Classic, the last official PGA Tour event of the 2018 calendar year, it was Charles Howell III, a former collegiate star at Oklahoma State University, who overcame early stumbles to shoot a final-round 3-under 67 and transmute a 54-hole advantage into his first victory since the 2007 Nissan Open.
The third career victory for the historically consistent Augusta, GA native, very nearly did not happen as a bogey-double bogey start at the famously beautiful Sea Island Golf Club put the 39-year-old in a significant early hole.
However, Howell III was able to calm his nerves and finish off a valiant comeback effort, adding birdies on three of his final four holes to make a playoff against a ridiculously hot Patrick Rodgers, which he won with a birdie on the second extra hole.
It was not just Rodgers, who shot an unbelievable 61-62 over the weekend, that was in the mix late at St Simons Island, just off the Georgia coast, as PLAYERS Champion Webb Simpson and long-hitting rookie sensation Cameron Champ both held back-nine leads on Sunday.
In the end, yet one more champion was appropriately crowned who had not experienced victory in a long time, following the lead of notables such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Simpson, Paul Casey, Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter, Keegan Bradley, and Matt Kuchar – who all snapped winless droughts in the past 12 months.
FINAL TOP 5
Pos-Players-To Par (Final Round)
1. Charles Howell III -19 (-3)
2. Patrick Rodgers -19 (-8)
3. Webb Simpson -18 (-5)
3. Ryan Blaum -17 (-4)
5. Luke List -17 (-5)
6. Cameron Champ -16 (-1)
7. Peter Uihlein -15 (-7)
7. Chase Wright -15 (-6)
7. Kevin Kisner -15 (-5)
7. Zach Johnson -15 (-4)
11. Austin Cook, Lucas Glover -14
15. Hunter Mahan, Jason Gore -13
23. Nick Watney, Harold Varner III -12
37. JJ Spaun, Ernie Els -10
54. Dru Love -8
65. Davis Love III, Joaquin Niemann -6
HOW CHARLES HOWELL III WON THE RSM CLASSIC
Holding a one-stroke lead over the recently red-hot Champ and Jason Gore going into Sunday’s finale had to be stressful for Howell, who’s finished either runner-up or third place 25 times in his career, but had only landed in the winner’s circle twice, once apiece in 2002 and 2007.
Early on, it looked like it another close call was likely as Howell bogeyed the first hole, and then a water-borne drive led to a double-bogey on the drive already put him three strokes behind Gore, who had started birdie-par.
That double, which was Howell’s only hole of bogey or worse for the entire week, would end up being the last blemish on his Sunday scorecard, as birdies on Nos. 5 and 6 got him back near the lead as he turned in 1-over 36.
A birdie on the 10th evened him out for the day, and when the leaderboard jammed up late in the day, he added birdies on Nos. 15, 16, and 17 to reach 19-under for the week. A birdie on 18 from Rodgers tied the two on top, and it looked like Simpson would join the trio, but he three-putted the finishing hole from inside 10 feet for a par, and after Howell III two-putted from 22 feet, he and Rodgers went back to 18 to determine a winner.
Rodgers had all the momentum, looking nearly unstoppable over the weekend in his quest for his first career victory, but both players parred the first extra hole. A clutch lengthy birdie on the second extra hole gave Howell III the final win of 2018.
For the week, Howell III finished second in the field in birdies, and while he did not finish better than 17th in any of the individual strokes gained categories (he was 13th in strokes gained: total), leading the field in greens in regulation more than made up for his other deficiencies.
It was a strong all-around effort for a player long-known to have few weaknesses.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR CHARLES HOWELL III
The man who seems to make every cut, but never wins, went a long way in turning around the narrative about a 539 start career where he has made more than $37 million, which ranks 20th in Tour history.
He will go into the break as the leader of the FedExCup standings, inside the top 65 of the world rankings, and when the Tour starts back up in early January, he has a spot in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, an event comprising only the winners of the previous 12 months.
Even more significant for Howell III, he is now qualified for The Masters, his hometown tournament, which he has played just once in the last 10 years, finishing T19 in 2012.
Given what he overcame, Howell III was the star of Sunday, but he was not the only player in the field who ended his 2018 PGA Tour year strong.
For the second consecutive day, Rodgers had the field’s low score, this time a bogey-free 8-under 62. Rodgers had five back-nine birdies to force the playoff, and his runner-up finish tied the best of his 117 start career.
Rodgers led the field for the week in both birdies and strokes gained: putting. Considering he had one of the best amateur careers in golf history, it is considered a disappointment that he has not broken through on the PGA Tour yet, but the great finish at Sea Island should give him considerable confidence going into next season.
Finishing just one stroke short of Rodgers on Sunday was Peter Uihlein, who birdied six holes in row mid-round to shoot a 7-under 63.
Also looking for his first career victory, the T7 finish was a big improvement on his last time out, when he shot a final round 75 to finish T23 after holding the 54-hole lead two weeks ago at the Shriners Hospitals For Children Open.
Defending champion Austin Cook was among 10 players to shoot a 6-under 64 on Sunday, as his bogey-free round moved him 11 spots up the final leaderboard into a T11 position. Cook, who has made 11 of his last 12 cuts, was looking to become the first two-time winner of the RSM Classic.
One of the big stories going into Sunday was the inclusion of Jason Gore in the final threesome, a man who has not won since 2005, and who holds a second job as an insurance salesman since he does not qualify for as many events as he used to.
Just one stroke off the 54-hole lead, Gore jumped into a tie for first with a birdie on 1, but things went south from there.
Gore bogeyed 3, 6, and 7 to drop considerably off the lead, and with just one birdie the rest of the way he shot a 2-over 72 to finish T15. On a positive note, however, this week marked the first time he made a cut in a PGA Tour event in more than two years.
Cameron Champ, the third member of that final pairing, has been the talk of the Tour over the past month, winning the Sanderson Farms Championship and then contending in all three of his starts since.
Sunday was not Champ’s best this time around, though, as three birdies to two bogeys meant a pedestrian final-round 1-under 69. As he seemingly always does, Champ led the field in driving distance for the week.
Dropping 32 spots down the final leaderboard on Sunday was Dru Love, the son of PGA Tour legend and RSM Classic host Davis Love III, after a final round even-par 70. A T54 is somewhat disappointing after being much further up the board after his Saturday 64, but this week did mark the second professional made cut of his career, and he outplayed his father, who finished in a tie for 65th.
“Yeah. I’ve walked through them [interview rooms] on Sunday afternoons to do drug testing, I think. Man, I don’t even know what to say. The way I started today, bogey-double the first two holes, I just honestly thought I had shot myself in the foot again. You know, somehow I was able to sort of settle the round down a little bit from there. I thought that was pretty much over.”
– Charles Howell III