(Reuters) – Charles Howell III hit every fairway and every green in regulation for the first time in his career as he surged to a two-shot lead in the first round at the RSM Classic in coastal Georgia on Thursday.
His flawless performance set up eight birdies for an eight-under-par 64 on the Plantation course at Sea Island.
Defending champion Austin Cook and fellow American J.J. Spaun carded 66, also at Plantation, one of two courses used for the final event of the year on the PGA Tour.
The Plantation played easier on Thursday in a stiff breeze that presented a stern test on the more exposed Seaside course, where the best score was a four-under 66 shot by both Brian Harman and Peter Uihlein.
Howell, born in Augusta, Georgia, is known as much for being a consistent money earner on the PGA Tour rather than a tournament winner.
The 39-year-old has won only twice in more than 500 starts on the PGA Tour, but has accumulated more than $35 million in earnings.
Howell’s last victory came in 2007, though he has come close many times since, posting six runner-up finishes in the past decade.
“I think sometimes playing these difficult conditions it forces you to stay a bit more present, it forces you to stay kind of in the moment a bit,” he said.
“It’s hard to get too far ahead of yourself because of the difficulty of every shot coming.”
Cook confirmed that the leaders had benefitted from playing the Plantation course.
“The wind picked up a lot but we were hidden more than the Seaside course because of the trees,” he said.
“But great ball-striking today and it helped me shoot a good round.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Tokyo; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)