Howell holds one-stroke lead at Reno-Tahoe Open |

Howell holds one-stroke lead at Reno-Tahoe Open

Scott Sonner, Associated Press Writer

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Charles Howell III birdied three of his first four holes Thursday and shot a 7-under 65 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the $3 million Reno-Tahoe Open.

John Rollins, J.L. Lewis and Tom Pernice Jr. had 66s on the 7,472-yard Montreux Golf & Country Club course.

Ben Crane, Luke Donald, Steve Allan, Eduardo Herrera, Jonathan Kaye and Boo Weekley all were at 67. A large group at 68 included former PGA champions Mark Brooks and Bob Tway, along with Duffy Waldorf, Woody Austin, Spike McRoy, Boo Weekley and Gary Nicklaus.

Lewis birdied his last four holes, missing a 20-foot eagle putt that would have secured a share of the lead on his last, the 616-yard, par-5 ninth. Pernice got to 6 under after he hit his second shot within 2 feet on the 491-yard, par-4 14th.

Armed with a new Big Bertha II driver and Jose Maria Olazabal’s former caddie, Howell shot a 5-under 31 on the front nine of the mountain course on the edge of the Sierra. He said he had some difficulty reading the undulating greens but still managed seven birdies in his bogey-free round. He played the par-5s in 3 under.

“The toughest thing here is reading the greens. It’s just shocking the way the ball wants to go because of the valleys or the mountains, or whatever the locals say,” Howell said. The locals say all putts run away from 10,900-foot Mount Rose that sits between the course and Lake Tahoe.

The 23-year-old got to 6 under when he hit a 40-yard bunker shot within 6 feet on the 584-yard, par-5 11th. He added another birdie when he hit a wedge to 6 feet at the 477-yard, par-4 15th. He made a 10-foot putt to save par on the next hole, a 183-yard par-3 over water.

Howell, who topped the $1 million mark with a tie for 17th at the PGA Championship last week, enjoyed his best performances this year in January and February with a tie for fourth at the Sony Open in Hawaii, and ties for sixth at the Bob Hope Classic and Nissan Open. He said he was pleased with a tie for 29th at the Masters Tournament and a tie for 18th at the U.S. Open Championship.

“Up to this point, I’d give my year a ‘B.’ … To give my year an ‘A’ I would need to win a tournament,” he said.

Caddie Brendan McCartain joined him last month.

“He’s helped my scoring ability. I don’t really know how. He’s kept me in the game better. He’s kind of kept me in it when I need to be and relaxed when I don’t,” he said.

Howell switched drivers last week.

“I now have a club I feel really confident with,” Howell said. “I launch the ball higher, which is important here because of the altitude,” he said. With the thinner air at the elevation near 5,500 feet, the ball travels 7 percent to 10 percent farther than at sea level but it “falls out of the sky faster, like in Denver,” Howell said.

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