Charles Howell III silences skeptics at the Michelob Championship at Kingsmill.

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Charles Howell III is 23 years old and in just his second full season on the PGA Tour, but he already was hearing the whispers about why he hadn’t won.

Howell silenced the skeptics in his 68th start with a two-stroke victory Oct. 6 over Scott Hoch and Brandt Jobe at the Michelob Championship at Kingsmill.

“After a while, you start listening to it,” Howell said. “I know that ideally I’m not supposed to, but it starts to get in your head a little bit.”

Howell turned professional after winning the 2000 NCAA individual championship as a junior at Oklahoma State. After competing in 13 events in 2000, he was named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2001 after six top-10 finishes, including one second and two thirds. He competed both years by earning the Tour’s Special Temporary Member status, and he was first in PGA Tour nonmember earnings with just more than $1.5 million last year, which would have ranked him No. 33 on the 2001 money list.

In the minds of many, those accomplishments had given Howell – a heralded junior and college star – the unwanted tag of best player who hadn’t won.

In addition to knocking the victory monkey off his back, Howell also came close to clinching another goal – a spot in the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

“When I started the year, my No. 1 goal was to make the Tour Championship,” Howell said Sunday after shooting a 4-under-par 67 – the day’s best round – to finish at 14-under 270. His victory was worth $666,000 and lifted Howell from 37th to 18th in Tour earnings, virtually assuring him a spot in the Oct. 31-Nov. 3 event for the year’s top 30 money winners.

The Augusta, Ga., native trailed Jobe by two strokes and Billy Mayfair by one entering the final round, but his final round was up and down. Howell birdied three of his first four holes, and had an eagle, four birdies and three bogeys – including back-to-back miscues on Nos. 11-12 – on his card through 14 holes.

“I was just enough in contention to get nervous but I was just enough out of contention to get hacked off at myself for not being ahead,” he said. “So for the first win, I probably couldn’t give a better scenario.”

Howell turned things around on the par-5 15th hole, where he had a tough up-and-down birdie. He pulled his second shot over the green, but chipped it on, then sank a 24-foot birdie putt. He then parred out, two-putting from 10 feet on No. 18 for the victory.

Jobe – who has nine victories overseas, but none on the PGA Tour – matched Howell’s birdie on 15, but hit his approach shot short on No. 16 and took bogey. He also bogeyed 18.

“I’m at 14 under standing in the middle of the (16th) fairway and I’ve got a ball going straight at the hole, perfect,” Jobe said. “If it flies two more yards, I’m probably at 15 under and leading the golf tournament. For me, that was the difference.

“It was just a frustrating day because it was so close to being good and so close to being bad. It was kind of one of those days.”

Jobe’s previous best finish had been a third at this year’s Advil Western Open in July.

Mayfair, looking to end a four-year victory drought, dashed his hopes with a triple-bogey 7 on the par-4 14th hole. He drove into the rough, failed to get out on his next two shots, chunked a chip onto the greenside fringe, chipped well past the hole, then two-putted.

That left it up to Howell to finish things off at 18 and become the 14th first-time winner this year on the PGA Tour. He smacked a 311-yard drive, then stuck his approach close.

“That’s probably the best drive I have ever hit in my life, considering the circumstances,” he said. “I couldn’t feel my arms on that second shot.”

For Howell, they were two shots that quieted a lot of whispers.

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