ST. SIMONS ISLAND — Augusta native Charles Howell let his grip on first place in the RSM Classic slip away early in Sunday’s final round at the Sea Island Resort Seaside Course.
“I’ve seen this movie before,” he said about going bogey, double-bogey on his first two holes to fall three shots behind Cameron Champ. “I know how it ends.”
It took 16 holes of regulation and two in sudden death for Howell to write a new script and end an 11-year victory drought on the PGA Tour.
Howell made a 15-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole, moments after Patrick Rodgers missed from 22 feet, giving him the third title he has sought since last winning at the 2007 Nissan Open.
Howell (67) and Rodgers (62) finished regulation tied at 19-under-par 263.
Howell rose to the top of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings with the victory and earned a $1,152,000 first-place check. He also gets his first trip to the Masters Tournament in April since 2012.
“At this point I’d go (to Augusta National) to watch (his son Chase) play in the Drive, Chip and Putt,” Howell said. “I’d go anyway I can. That tournament is so special. It means a lot to me but it means a lot to every player. It’s tough to sit back at home and watch on TV. That was one of the first things that popped into my head [when the final putt dropped].”
Howell had already begun preparing himself for another letdown after he stumbled on the first two holes, the product of hitting tee shots in a fairway bunker and a water hazard.
“The way I started today, I honestly thought I’d shot myself in the foot again,” he said. “Somehow I was able to settle the round down a little bit from there. I thought it was pretty much over. So I thought, ’let’s just have a nice rest of the day and see what happens.”
Howell got back to even par for the day, and then trailed Rodgers by two shots with four holes left before making his move with birdie putts of 3 feet at No. 15, 18 feet at No. 16 and 5 feet at No. 17.
Just before Howell hit his birdie attempt at No. 17, he heard a roar, saw the leaderboard change and knew that Rodgers had made a 7-foot birdie attempt on the final hole.
Howell then dropped the tying putt and said knowing Rodgers had posted the score calmed him down.
“It made the putt easier because I knew I had to make it to have a chance,” Howell said.
Howell had a chance to win in regulation but his 22-foot attempt turned away from the hole with inches to spare.
Howell and Rodgers had birdie attempts on the first playoff hole, the par-4 18th, but Rodgers missed from 27 feet and Howell from 14 feet off the front fringe.
Rodgers sent his birdie attempt on the second playoff hole past the cup, setting the stage for Howell.
When the ball fell in, Howell dropped to his knees and buried his head in his hands. He then had an emotional embrace with his wife Heather and two children Ansley and Chase – neither of whom had been born when he last won a tournament.
“I fought as hard as I could,” said Rodgers, who came one shot off the PGA Tour record for low consecutive rounds with hs 61-62 weekend. “I played as free and aggressive as I could and I felt comfortable down the stretch. I didn’t really back down. It’s a testament to how well Charles played.”
Webb Simpson (65) had a chance to join the playoff but missed a 12-foot birdie attempt at the last. He finished alone in third at 18-under. Ryan Blaum (66) tied Luke List (65) for fourth at 17-under.
Champ (69) finished alone in sixth at 16-under.