After a three-year hiatus from his hometown major, Charles Howell was content to leave the golf course Thursday at even par.
“I got off to a decent start, then made a couple of stupid bogeys on 4 and 6,” said Howell, spitting out “stupid” with a little extra disgust. “I played the par 5s well in 3-under and need to tidy a few things up for tomorrow, but I’m happy with it.”
It was Howell’s second-best start in eight career Masters Tournaments, bettered only by the 71 he shot in 2004 when he went on to a personal-best tie for 13th. Considering that he shot 80, 75 and 78 in his past three opening rounds, being in the thick of the hunt tied with the likes of Tiger Woods is steady territory, especially because of the wind and mud that wreaked havoc on some of the scores.
“I had a few (mud balls) and I didn’t like them,” Howell said. “I got away with them, but this place is hard enough without them.”
The last mud ball came on the 18th hole, where his approach hooked left into the gallery. With a short-side back pin, Howell elected to putt it up the slope and within 4 feet of the hole to save his par.
“The lie wasn’t great going into where the people were, so it was the safer, smarter play,” he said.
Howell made three bogeys on the front nine, missing both par 3s on the right side and failing to get up and down. He also bogeyed the ninth when his drive found the trees on the right and he had to punch out.
He made up for the errors with three birdies on the last three par 5s, including two-putt efforts on 13 and 15.
He’ll start his second round at 9:18 a.m. Friday with a forecast calling for cooler conditions, morning showers and wind that is expected to clear up as the afternoon goes on.
“Tomorrow’s probably going to be a tough day with the weather, so every shot counts,” he said Thursday. “If it starts to get a little windy around here, par’s a heck of a score.”
As eager as Howell was to compete in the Masters for the first time since 2008, he didn’t mind having to wait until after lunch to tee off.
“It was probably better because it gave me time to sort of settle down a bit,” he said. “I’ve gone off early on Thursdays and it seems to be a bit rushed. So it was probably better.”
Though he felt the same nerves he has always felt in a major, the rush of being back between the ropes in his childhood hometown was fulfilling.
“It’s hard to watch on TV,” he said. “It’s not a tournament that it’s very easy for a player to ignore that it’s going on. It’s nice to be back.”