PGA Tour

Howell grabs PGA lead at RSM Classic

 Charles Howell III (Getty)
Charles Howell III (Getty)

Washington - American Charles Howell, who hasn't won a PGA title since 2007, fired a bogey-free eight-under par 64 on Thursday to grab a two-stroke lead after the opening round of the RSM Classic

The 39-year-old native of Augusta, Georgia - home of the Masters - won his first PGA crown in 2002 at Kingsmill and his next in 2007 at Riviera, beating Phil Mickelson in a playoff. 

But he hasn't hoisted another trophy since, his nearest misses coming with playoff losses in 2013 at the Humana Challenge and last year's National at TPC Potomac. 

Sharing second on 66, two off the pace, were two players who picked up where they left off in last year's final round, defending champion Austin Cook and 2017 runner-up JJ Spaun. 

Each American fired a bogey-free six-under par 66 on the Plantation course at Sea Island, Georgia, in a rematch of last year's title fight, which saw Cook collect his first and thus far only PGA triumph by four shots over Spaun. 

The par-70 Seaside course is also used in the opening days at the final full-field PGA event of the year. 

Howell birdied the par-4 second and sixth holes and the par-5 eighth to make the turn 3-under, then birdied three of the first four holes on the back nine and closed with birdies at the par-5 16th and 18th to leap ahead of Cook and Spaun. 

Starting on the back nine, Cook birdied the par-3 15th and the par-5 16th and 18th holes to reach the turn 3-under, then birdied the par-5 fourth and eighth holes and closed with a birdie at nine. 

Spaun, also a back-nine starter, opened with a birdie and matched Cook's birdie holes exactly over three of the last four entering the turn. 

Spaun, still seeking his first PGA victory, then birdied the fourth and par-4 sixth to stand on 66 as well.

Top finishers from Thursday's opening round of the US PGA Tour's RSM Classic at Sea Island, Georgia (USA unless noted, par-72 Plantation and par-70 Seaside courses):

Eight-under par 64 - Charles Howell

Six-under 66 - JJ Spaun, Austin Cook

Five-under 67 - Aaron Baddeley (AUS), Davis Love, Chase Wright

Four-under 68 - Whee Kim (KOR), Cameron Champ, Patton Kizzire, Brendon Todd, Jason Gore, Ted Potter Jr, Im Sung-jae (KOR)

Four-under 66 - Brian Harman, Peter Uihlein

Three-under 69 - Sam Saunders, Scott Brown, Josh Teater, Corey Conners (CAN), Hank Lebioda, Tyler Duncan, Eric Axley, Luke List, Retief Goosen (RSA), Ryan Blaum, Brian Gay

Three-under 67 - Brad Schnell, Graeme McDowell (NIR)

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