Hometown Howell in the mix at Augusta

Charles Howell III of the United States hits his tee shot on the second hole during the second round of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – It seemed so easy when Charles Howell III first attended his hometown major at age 7.

“The first Masters I came to, Larry Mize won, so I thought everyone from Augusta won,” Howell said. “I thought, ‘A guy from Augusta won; it’s not that big of a deal.’ Then I saw there wasn’t much rough out here, so how could they ever hit a bad shot? The greens were perfect, so how do you miss a putt?

“I learned.”

Howell, now 32, has played in seven Masters, missing the cut three times and never placing better than 13th. He’s in contention heading into this weekend, though. He shot 70 Friday. His 2-under 142 total is three shots off the lead. He's tied for 11th, his third-best position entering the weekend here (10th, 2003; sixth, 2004).

This may be Howell’s hometown event, but he must cope with the same challenges as everyone else, and deal with the same pressure associated with the year’s first major.

“It’s just a place I’ve never been 100 percent at ease with,” he said.

He’s staying in his parents’ home this week, though he says it’s been renovated so often that he wouldn’t recognize his childhood bedroom, where a young Howell admired Greg Norman – a player who suffered so much heartbreak here.

This Masters hasn’t been the birdie-fest that Phil Mickelson predicted earlier in the week. Difficult hole locations negated Thursday’s soft greens. Damp, foggy conditions early Friday gave way to sunlight and a swirling wind.

“I think we’ve seen two of the four seasons so far this week,” Howell said jokingly. “I was playing very conservatively, especially early with it being cool and windy. Maybe I’ve watched too many Masters highlights. Everything can go bad on every hole.”

That conservative plan led to 17 pars and an eagle, on the par-5 15th, where Howell hit 4-iron to 8 feet. It was his first eagle in 24 rounds here, earning him his first pair of crystal goblets.

This is his first Masters since 2008. He earned his return trip by qualifying for last year’s Tour Championship.

“Of course it means a lot; I’m from here,” Howell said. “But the Masters is the Masters for everybody. It’s a big event for everyone.”

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