AUGUSTA, Ga. – Few people in this year’s Masters field have a greater appreciation for the invite that came in the mail from Augusta National Golf Club than Charles Howell III.
As an Augusta native, he knows all too well just how special both this place and week are for top-level pros. He also knows how hard it is to get here, having played just once since 2008 while facing an annual barrage of questions about what he needed to do to get back inside the gates.
But since Howell’s last appearance, a tie for 19th in 2012, he’s been unable to win on the PGA Tour and perpetually flirted with the top-50 cutoff in the world rankings that would have also earned him an invite. That changed in November when he rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt to beat Patrick Rodgers in a playoff at the RSM Classic, his first win on Tour in nearly 12 years.
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In the moments after he plucked the ball from the hole at Sea Island, his mind immediately drifted to Augusta National.
“It sounds a bit cliché, but it was one of the first things I thought of. I just played a 72-hole qualifier for the Masters, basically, and a stressful one at that,” Howell said. “It’s so hard to get an invite here that winning becomes such a big deal for that, that every player knows it and thinks about it.”
Howell made his Masters debut in 2002 at age 22, and he made it back every year through 2008 before his Augusta dry spell began. He admitted that this week’s festivities will feel a little different than his earlier trips, especially as his children get a chance to experience the Par 3 Contest Wednesday afternoon, as it was rained out in ’12.
It’ll be all business once the ball goes in the air Thursday morning, but Howell plans to savor every moment. After all, he knows full well that your next Masters start is never guaranteed.
“It’s arguably the hardest tournament in the world to get into, and I think I appreciate the invitation a lot better now than maybe before,” Howell said. “It’s just wonderful to be here. It’s the greatest sporting event in the world.”