© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2003
LOS ANGELES -- Charles Howell was curious to see how he would respond to his first 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour. The answer was quick and decisive.
His opening tee shot soared into the sky over Riviera and split the middle of the fairway on the 503-yard hole, setting up birdie. He followed with another perfect drive and a 9-iron into 10 feet for his second birdie on No. 2.
Just like that his one-stroke lead was four, and the Nissan Open turned into a one-man show Saturday.
"As the round went on, I became more and more calm," Howell said after 3-under 68 for a three-stroke lead over Nick Price. "Nothing bothered me."
Howell finished at 11-under 202 and faces another new experience. He has never led a PGA Tour event going into the final round.
"Charlie hasn't been there too often," Price said. "That's the only thing I suppose I have going for me. For him, tomorrow is all about game management."
For Price, who scraped out 1-under 70 to stay in the hunt, today will be about tracking down a talented young player he knows all too well.
They first crossed paths a dozen years ago in Florida, both working with swing guru David Leadbetter. The difference was that Price was on the verge of dominating the game, and Howell was 10 years old.
"He doesn't look to have any chinks in his armor," Price said. "I'm telling you, the guy has got everything. As he matures he's going to get better and better. But I think he's pretty darn good right now."
Howell said Price has always been "like a god in my book," from the first time he watched him hit balls with Leadbetter.
And Howell won't have to worry about Tiger Woods today. Woods hit his opening tee shot into the parking lot and made double bogey. He hit another shot left-handed. When he was done Woods found himself 11 strokes behind.
It also was the second PGA Tour event since 1999 in which Woods had two rounds over par. He opened with 72.
Now for the good news.
He had a bet with caddie Steve Williams that if he didn't make birdie on the 18th, Woods would carry his bag today. His approach stopped 4 feet in front of the flag, and Woods dropped his club and laughed as Williams ran back to retrieve it.
When his birdie putt went in, Woods let out a sigh.
"I was relieved," he said. "The suffering was over."
Howell plodded along with pars after his fast start, then built a five-stroke advantage with 4-iron from 239 yards to within 10 feet on No. 11 that set up eagle. He gave back a shot after missing the 12th fairway.
Howell has improved each season on tour. He was rookie of the year in 2001, won for the first time last year at Kingsmill and is positioned for his second big prize.
Howell has said he won't feel as though he has arrived as a player until he wins a tournament with Woods in the field.
K.J. Choi had 67 and was alone in third at 206. PGA champion Rich Beem (69) and defending champion Len Mattiace (71) were another shot back.
MALAYSIAN OPEN: Arjun Atwal built a four-stroke lead in third round of the European PGA Tour/Asian PGA Tour event before a tropical storm stopped play for a second day in Kuala Lumpur. Atwal was on the eighth hole when play was stopped in the late afternoon. None of the 85 golfers who made the cut earlier in the morning was able to complete the round. Atwal, who played 11 holes in the morning to complete the second round, was at 17 under. First-round leader Retief Goosen and Thammanoon Srirot were 13 under.