Charles Howell III the local favourite
Charles Howell III's love affair with the Masters began in 1987 when he watched fellow Augusta native Larry Mize win the title spectacularly in a playoff.
After battling to claim his place in the field for this year's edition at Augusta National, Howell has set his sights on achieving a dream victory of his own at a venue he describes as close to heaven.
"I've probably said enough about what this tournament means to me," the 27-year-old American told reporters on Monday.
"It (winning) would be very, very special.
"This is the Masters and Augusta National, and that speaks for itself. It's as close as I've seen to heaven to this point.
"The whole place has been special to me and it was to my advantage to grow up in Augusta to be a golfer."
Howell was a seven-year-old when Mize chipped in for birdie at the par-four 11th, the second extra hole, to edge out heavyweights Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros at the 1987 Masters.
"That was definitely big for me, although I didn't appreciate it at the time," Howell recalled.
"I didn't realise how big of a feat it was, a person from Augusta winning the Masters.
"And people don't talk about who he beat in that playoff either. Larry Mize was not the favourite going into that playoff, let's face it.
"For him to come out on top of that and to be from Augusta, you've got to play some good golf to get in that position against those names.
"That was a big part of my growing up, to see a guy from Augusta win the Masters right here in my backyard."
Howell, who finished rock bottom in last year's Masters after carding rounds of 80 and 84, faced an uphill task to qualify for this year's tournament.
His world ranking had slipped to 82nd by the end of last year and he needed to climb back into the top 50 to make his sixth successive appearance at Augusta.
"At the beginning of the year, I wrote down goals and getting back into the Masters was on the top of my list," the twice PGA Tour winner said.
"Where I looked at where I was in the world ranking and what I needed to do to get to the top 10 on the money list to qualify for the current year; it wasn't too easy of a task, truthfully."
Howell could hardly have made a better start to the year, producing five top 10s in nine starts on the PGA Tour, including a playoff victory over Masters champion Phil Mickelson in the Nissan Open at Riviera Country Club.
"Even after playing well early in the year, I still wasn't completely in this golf tournament until I won at Riviera," said Howell, who secured his Masters berth by virtue of being in the top 50 in last week's world rankings.
"I still could have had a pretty good start to the year and not made this.
"I'm just very thankful to be here this week," added the American, whose best Masters finish was a tie for 13th in 2004. "It's definitely a privilege for me and hopefully I can take advantage of it."
April 4, 2007