POTOMAC - The opening round of the $4.8 million Booz Allen Classic was the perfect remedy for any post-U.S. Open blues of Charles Howell III.
Howell, who shot a final round of 83 Sunday on the brown and crusty greens of Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., was 22 strokes better yesterday on the soft and inviting surfaces of the Tournament Players Club at Avenel.
An opening round of 10-under-par 61, including a course-record 8-under 28 on Howell's last nine holes, was both a career-best and competitive course record, giving Howell a three-stroke lead over former PGA and Kemper Open champion Rich Beem and journeyman Olin Browne.
Another former PGA champion, Jeff Sluman, was four strokes back. Five others - former British Open champion Tom Lehman, Australians Adam Scott and Scott Hend, as well as journeymen Blaine McCallister and Billy Mayfair, were at 5-under 66. Mayfair's round was 23 strokes better than what he shot Sunday at Shinnecock.
A reminder that the players were no longer on Long Island, 76 of them broke par, setting a tournament record.
The score by Howell broke the course record set last year by David Duval, who shot 62 in the second round. The previous record for nine holes was 29. Howell's score was the best for an opening round on the PGA Tour this year and was one off Robert Gamez's 60 in the third round of this year's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
"It was a good day. It was one of those funny days where everything seems to work your way," said Howell, 25, who has won once in four years on tour. "The best you can do is get out of the way and let it continue to happen."
It didn't happen quickly for Howell. Starting on the back nine and making birdies on his first two holes, Howell played unevenly, with two bogeys and two birdies on his next four holes before finally making a par. After staying at 2-under through 10 holes, Howell finished with eight straight 3s, including eagles on the two par-5s.
"I don't think I've ever had eight 3s in a row on a normal course," Howell said.
Unlike Sunday at Shinnecock Hills, where he three-putted three times, twice sinking 15-footers to do that, and four-putted once, Howell had nine one-putt greens yesterday. Known more for his prodigious drives and his ball striking than his putting, Howell estimated he made 130 feet of putts.
"It's very strange," he said. "The best way to describe it is you get a feeling that you can do nothing wrong. It's just a feeling that no matter what you ultimately are deciding to do, with any shot, with a putt, the way you see it breaking ... you've read it right. It's going to work out. To re-create that feeling, that's obviously the $64,000 question."
Thoughts of what happened Sunday, when Howell celebrated his 25th birthday by shooting his highest score as a pro, were still clearly running through his mind. There was one point when Howell hit what looked to be a perfect tee shot on the treacherous par-3 seventh hole, only to see the ball roll down past the flagstick and trickle into a bunker.
"You know, at Shinnecock, to be fair, I played well on Thursday, Friday and Saturday," said Howell, who was 3-over through three rounds. "I never ever in my wildest dreams thought a Sunday round, teeing off at 2 o'clock, was going to turn laughable."
Howell figured that playing this week was the best way to get over what had transpired at the Open.
"I think it's a great idea to play the week after that," said Howell, who wound up tied for 36th. "I definitely would not want to go home and think about that any longer. The Sunday night flying down here and Monday was enough. I don't think it's a bad idea to do it, just forget about it."
By the time Howell teed off yesterday, there was only one thought in his head: trying to stay close to Beem, who had finished a round of 64 earlier in the day.
"It's important to get off to a good start when you see that," said Howell, whose previous low round on the PGA Tour was a 62 two years ago at the Sony Open in Hawaii. "You know some guys are making birdies and you know the wind isn't blowing today."
By the time Howell reached the par-3 ninth hole - his finishing hole - after making four birdies and an eagle on the previous five holes - the thought of shooting a 59 briefly crossed his mind. Howell needed to ace the hole, but more importantly wanted to get his tee shot on the narrow green.
Asked if he considered going for the pin, Howell said: "It's funny you mention that. I thought walking off the eighth green, it [a 59] flashed in my head. But then you take a look at how small that green looks from the top of that hill and that thought is fleeting. You just hit the ball on the green and just putt at it."
As it turned out, Howell's shot came up short, nearly 40 feet below the hole. He barely missed another birdie, then tapped in for par.
He will try to keep it going today.
"One thing I think I'm getting better at is staying where I am and staying in the present," said Howell. "Too many times I've felt I've hurt myself by looking too far in advance and looking too far ahead. I'll go play tomorrow's round as hard as I can and see where that takes me."
Nor is Howell's caddie looking back at what happened Sunday at Shinnecock.
"I think the seventh hole is irrelevant," said Brendan McCartin, as he waited for Howell to sign his scorecard yesterday. "I think Sunday's round is irrelevant."
It certainly is now.
Scores, At Potomac
First round, par 71 (36-35)
Charles Howell III 28-33-61 Rich Beem 30-34-64 Olin Browne 34-30-64 Jeff Sluman 31-34-65 Blaine McCallister 33-33-66 Tom Lehman 31-35-66 Adam Scott 33-33-66 Scott Hend 35-31-66 Billy Mayfair 32-34-66 Carl Pettersson 32-35-67 Frank Lickliter II 33-34-67 Shaun Micheel 34-33-67 Rory Sabbatini 36-31-67 Steve Stricker 33-34-67 Aaron Baddeley 35-32-67 Duffy Waldorf 33-34-67 Harrison Frazar 34-33-67 Danny Ellis 35-32-67 Steve Pate 34-34-68 Guy Boros 32-36-68 Billy Andrade 33-35-68 Tom Pernice, Jr. 33-35-68 Paul Stankowski 35-33-68 J.J. Henry 35-33-68 Willie Wood 35-33-68 David Edwards 33-35-68 Kevin Na 36-32-68 Vaughn Taylor 36-32-68 Dennis Paulson 34-34-68 Mark Hensby 34-34-68 Patrick Sheehan 34-34-68 Dicky Pride 36-32-68 Glen Day 36-33-69 Steve Allan 35-34-69 Joe Durant 33-36-69 Matt Gogel 34-35-69 Tim Herron 35-34-69 Tommy Tolles 38-31-69 Rod Pampling 35-34-69 Mark Wilson 36-33-69 David Branshaw 32-37-69 Hunter Mahan 37-32-69 Charley Hoffman 33-36-69 David Morland IV 37-32-69 Brad Lardon 34-35-69 Esteban Toledo 35-34-69 Craig Barlow 35-34-69 Arron Oberholser 35-34-69 Fred Funk 35-34-69 Bo Van Pelt 36-33-69 Jay Don Blake 36-33-69 Bill Haas 37-32-69 Jay Williamson 36-34-70 Jonathan Kaye 35-35-70 Ben Crane 34-36-70 Corey Pavin 35-35-70 Heath Slocum 36-34-70 Tom Scherrer 37-33-70 Michael Bradley 34-36-70 Michael Allen 35-35-70 Jeff Brehaut 34-36-70 Pat Bates 36-34-70 Jay Delsing 35-35-70 Cameron Beckman 36-34-70 Mathias Gronberg 36-34-70 Geoff Ogilvy 34-36-70 John Daly 35-35-70 Stan Utley 35-35-70 Joel Edwards 37-33-70 Danny Briggs 34-36-70 Hidemichi Tanaka 37-33-70 Aaron Barber 35-35-70 Ryan Palmer 36-34-70 Jason Bohn 37-33-70 Arjun Atwal 36-34-70 Joel Kribel 34-36-70 Trevor Dodds 34-37-71 Garrett Willis 33-38-71 Kelly Gibson 39-32-71 Len Mattiace 36-35-71 John Cook 37-34-71 Brent Geiberger 39-32-71 Mike Hulbert 35-36-71 Hirofumi Miyase 33-38-71 Lucas Glover 38-33-71 Brian Gay 36-35-71 Bart Bryant 38-33-71 Tom Carter 35-36-71 Cliff Kresge 36-35-71 Rich Barcelo 35-36-71 D.J. Brigman 37-34-71 Bill Glasson 35-37-72 Neal Lancaster 37-35-72 Richard S. Johnson 38-34-72 Mark Brooks 36-36-72 Spike McRoy 36-36-72 Joey Sindelar 38-34-72 Chris Smith 39-33-72 Russ Cochran 36-36-72 Pete Jordan 35-37-72 Donnie Hammond 37-35-72 Tjaart Van der Walt 37-35-72 Scott McCarron 37-35-72 Chris Riley 34-38-72 Luke Donald 38-34-72 Gene Sauers 36-36-72 Dean Wilson 38-34-72 Notah Begay III 36-36-72 Tom Byrum 38-34-72 Kent Jones 37-35-72 Deane Pappas 37-35-72 Mike Grob 36-36-72 Roland Thatcher 39-33-72 Ricky Touma 37-35-72 Tripp Isenhour 38-34-72 Daniel Chopra 36-36-72 Matt Hendrix 37-35-72 Kelly Mitchum 39-33-72 Robert Gamez 38-35-73 Tim Clark 37-36-73 Brian Kortan 35-38-73 John E. Morgan 37-36-73 Brenden Pappas 37-36-73 Jim Carter 39-34-73 Patrick Moore 38-35-73 David Sutherland 36-38-74 Craig Bowden 37-37-74 Jim McGovern 38-36-74 Carl Paulson 38-36-74 Boyd Summerhays 37-37-74 Brandon Knaub 39-35-74 Alex Cejka 39-35-74 Omar Uresti 38-36-74 Hank Kuehne 38-36-74 Brad Faxon 37-37-74 Justin Leonard 39-35-74 Ken Duke 37-37-74 George Bradford 37-37-74 Ken Green 38-37-75 Todd Fischer 38-37-75 Mike Heinen 36-39-75 Kris Cox 40-35-75 Kevin Muncrief 40-35-75 Chris Couch 37-39-76 Jim Schouller 39-37-76 Michael Clark II 41-35-76 Brett Quigley 38-38-76 Scott Hoch 40-37-77 Andre Stolz 40-37-77 Jason Dufner 37-41-78 Greg Chalmers 38-40-78 Ted Tryba 41-37-78 Del Ponchock 42-36-78