The numbers said it all Friday at Riviera Country Club. Charles Howell III, who was tied for the lead with III holes to play, is I shot ahead of Nick Price and II shots ahead of Len Mattiace after II rounds of the Nissan Open.
You must know about Charles Gordon Howell III. Rookie of the year in 2001. Won at Kingsmill last year. From Georgia. Thin. Probably could hide in a garden hose.
But there's no mistaking Howell's ability, especially after the way he maneuvered his way around Riviera en route to a six-under-par 65 that included a birdie-birdie finish that was dripping with star quality.
He's only 23 and he's learning all the time, which is why Howell, at eight-under 134, changed the way he does his golf business and no longer looks at the scoreboards when he's playing.
"I don't think any good comes out of that," said Howell, who wishes he hadn't checked the scoreboard last year when he was winning at Kingsmill.
"I probably could have breathed a little more coming down the 18th fairway," he said.
If Howell is a relative newcomer, Price isn't. At 46, he has got clubs older than Howell, who was born two years after Price turned pro.
But there was a certain bounce to Price's step as he put the finishing touches on his four-under 67 when he chipped in from 90 feet for an unexpected birdie at the 18th. Price, who also chipped in to birdie the seventh, says there are good things associated with being around as long as he has.
"There's obviously no substitute for experience in this game," he said.
The highlight of Mattiace's experience came at Riviera last year when he won his first tournament after 220 starts. He matched Price with a 67, helped along with a birdie-eagle tandem at the 11th and 12th.
Rich Beem, who held off Tiger Woods to win the PGA Championship last year at Hazeltine, followed his first-round 73 with a searing 65 that put him alone in fourth place at four-under 135.
Speaking of Woods, he posted a 68 and begins the weekend at two under and six shots removed from the lead. He could have been even closer, but he double-bogeyed the seventh, his 16th hole, after he drove the ball into the kikuyu rough on the right. He hacked the ball out, then knocked it into a bunker.
"I hit a lot of good shots, but I hit one bad one on seven that ended up costing me a couple of shots," Woods said.
One shot ahead of him is a group led by David Duval, whose round of 70 featured another high-wire act. He chipped in for par at the second, nailed a 12-foot putt to save par at the seventh and rolled in a 70-footer to birdie the fourth.
Because he missed the cut in his only other events, the Hope and at Pebble Beach, Duval interprets the way he is playing Riviera as a good sign.
"I got back in the essence of the game and scored well, you know, so I am excited about that," Duval said. "I feel like if I can continue to get a little bit sharper, then I will be fine. I have managed to hang in there."
It was not a feeling experienced by all. The cut was at three-over 145 and among the casualties were Colin Montgomerie, Tom Lehman, David Toms, Sergio Garcia, Justin Leonard and Jose Maria Olazabal.
Fred Funk, the first-round leader, ran off the road with a bogey, bogey, bogey, double-bogey streak that transformed a good round into a 74. Funk tied with Duval, Stephen Ames, K.J. Choi and Duffy Waldorf at three-under 139.
Price made only one bogey, when he three-putted from the fringe at the 14th, and maintains time hasn't run out on his chances to add to his three major titles -- the 1994 British Open and the 1992 and 1994 PGA Championships.
Just as he remembers how it feels to hoist the trophy at a major, Price also recalls the first time he ran into Howell. It was at David Leadbetter's golf school and Howell was 10.
"He was a skinny little kid who hit more balls than I had ever seen," Price said. "He hasn't changed.
"Charlie has got a lot of game. He's just starting to get comfortable out here. Pound for pound, he hits the ball longer than anybody out here. And he can't weigh more than, what, 140 pounds?"
Howell is listed at 155 pounds, but the way he hits the ball, his weight doesn't matter much. Howell said what really mattered was a putting tip he got when he was working at the Callaway testing center last week before the Torrey Pines event. He said he found out that he was standing over the ball incorrectly.
In his six-birdie, no-bogey round, Howell was proud of the way he put himself in position to score because of his short game.
"The hard part of this golf course is around the greens," said Howell, who birdied the 17th with a nonchalant up-and-down and finished with another one at the 18th when he rolled in a 12-foot putt.
At that point, he allowed himself to peek at the scoreboard. He saw himself in the lead. How others may see him is still to be determined, Howell admitted. There is one clear way to announce that he has really, truly arrived, he said.
"I need to win a tournament with Tiger in the field," Howell said. "But any one would be good."
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*--* Second-round scores from the Nissan Open, played on the 7,221-yard, par-71 Riviera CC: Round 1st 2nd Total 8 under Charles Howell III 69 65 134 7 under Nick Price 68 67 135 6 under Len Mattiace 69 67 136 4 under Rich Beem 73 65 138 3 under Stephen Ames 70 69 139 K.J. Choi 70 69 139 David Duval 69 70 139 Duffy Waldorf 70 69 139 Fred Funk 65 74 139 2 under Aaron Baddeley 69 71 140 Mike Weir 72 68 140 Corey Pavin 72 68 140 Tiger Woods 72 68 140 Stewart Cink 73 67 140 Bob Estes 69 71 140 Hidemichi Tanaka 72 68 140