(Reuters) - An emotional Charles Howell III overcame a disastrous start to his final round to defeat Patrick Rodgers in a playoff and win his first PGA Tour tournament in nearly 12 years at the RSM Classic in Georgia on Sunday.
A birdie at the second playoff hole ended the long drought for the 39-year-old American after one of the worst starts he could have imagined with a bogey at his first hole followed by a double-bogey at the second.
“I haven’t been able to pull it off for so long,” a tearful Howell, who dropped to his knees and buried his head in his hands after making the winning putt, told Golf Channel.
Howell twice narrowly missed long birdie putts at the 18th hole which would have won him the tournament — at the end of his fourth round of three-under-par 67 and at the first playoff hole — before finally sinking a 15-footer for the title.
“I just thought ‘Don’t leave this one short. Whatever you do ... knock it off the green, but don’t leave it short’,” he added.
Howell’s last win on tour came in February 2007 at the Los Angeles Open and he had lost two playoffs in the intervening years.
“I did wonder if this day would ever come,” Howell said. “But in weird way I probably okay with it because I enjoy I enjoy playing the game and the competition.”
He had plenty of that on Sunday.
Both he and Rodgers finished 18 holes at 19-under 263 with Rodgers, who has never won on the PGA Tour, lighting up the Seaside Course at Sea Island with eight birdies in a bogey-free round for a sparkling eight-under 62.
Webb Simpson narrowly missed the playoff, finishing one stroke back in third after a closing 65.
Both players parred the first playoff hole but Rodgers missed a birdie attempt at the second hole to give Howell a third opportunity to seal the deal.
Just getting to the playoff, however, had been a struggle for Howell, who had led the first three days of the tournament and started his final round with a one-stroke lead.
“I knew I had put myself behind the eight ball,” he said of his poor start.
He responded with birdies at the fifth, sixth and 10th holes to get back to par for the day before three birdies in a row from the 15th put him back amongst the leaders.
“To get to make that birdie putt on 16 was really big. That just gave me a chance,” Howell said.
Rodgers kept applying the pressure, however, connecting on a birdie putt at 18 to tie the score, forcing Howell to play two more holes to win the title.
“Golf is a brutal game,” Howell said. “The highs of the highs, it comes with a lot of really low lows. It’s a wonderful lesson to be learned that if you truly believe in what you’re doing, to stay the course.”
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Christian Radnedge