Golf: Howell grabs PGA lead in bid to end 11-year win drought

Howell (above, in a file photo) won his first PGA crown in 2002 at Kingsmill and his next in 2007 at Riviera. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - American Charles Howell, who hasn't won a PGA title since 2007, fired a bogey-free eight-under par 64 on Thursday (Nov 15) to grab a two-stroke lead after the opening round of the RSM Classic.

The 39-year-old native of Augusta, Georgia - home of the Masters - won his first PGA crown in 2002 at Kingsmill and his next in 2007 at Riviera, beating Phil Mickelson in a playoff.

But he hasn't hoisted another trophy since, his nearest misses coming with playoff losses in 2013 at the Humana Challenge and last year's National at TPC Potomac.

Sharing second on 66, two off the pace, were two players who picked up where they left off in last year's final round, defending champion Austin Cook and 2017 runner-up JJ Spaun.

Each American fired a bogey-free six-under par 66 on the Plantation course at Sea Island, Georgia, in a rematch of last year's title fight, which saw Cook collect his first and thus far only PGA triumph by four shots over Spaun.

The par-70 Seaside course is also used in the opening days at the final full-field PGA event of the year.

Howell birdied the par-4 second and sixth holes and the par-5 eighth to make the turn 3-under, then birdied three of the first four holes on the back nine and closed with birdies at the par-5 16th and 18th to leap ahead of Cook and Spaun.

Starting on the back nine, Cook birdied the par-3 15th and the par-5 16th and 18th holes to reach the turn 3-under, then birdied the par-5 fourth and eighth holes and closed with a birdie at nine.

Spaun, also a back-nine starter, opened with a birdie and matched Cook's birdie holes exactly over three of the last four entering the turn.

Spaun, still seeking his first PGA victory, then birdied the fourth and par-4 sixth to stand on 66 as well.

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