PLAYA DEL CARMEN: Fueled by one of Charles Howell III’s most impressive rounds in his 23 years as a professional golfer, Crushers GC captured both the individual and team trophies in resounding fashion on Sunday at LIV Golf Mayakoba, the season opener of the new LIV Golf League.
Howell’s bogey-free 8-under 63 was the lowest score of any player this week, and his first eight holes were even more impressive, as he produced six birdies to overtake 36-hole co-leaders Peter Uihlein (Smash GC) and Talor Gooch (RangeGoats GC). He eventually finished at 16 under, four strokes better than Uihlein, who shot a 68. Stinger GC’s Branden Grace was third at 10 under after shooting 67.
It is Howell’s fourth worldwide victory of his career, and his first at El Camaleon, a course he first competed on in 2007 and was playing for the 14th time this week.
“Obviously, I don’t think you ever see a win coming,” said the 43-year-old Howell. “I’ve played in a lot of golf tournaments in my life, and I haven’t won a lot of them, and you have the doubts and the feelings, will you ever win again?
“To do it against this competition with these guys standing up here is more than I could ever dream of. I’m extremely thankful.”
Certainly his fellow Crushers teammates were thankful to have Howell going so low. Last season during the beta-test LIV Golf Invitational Series, the Crushers finished second twice and also had a third-place finish in the five regular-season events after Bryson DeChambeau became captain and stabilized his roster with veterans Howell, Paul Casey and Anirban Lahiri.
That consistency led to a No. 2 seed at the Miami Team Championship, but the Crushers did not make it to the final day. Now they have started the new season with a huge breakthrough victory, nine shots ahead of last year’s dominant team and defending champs 4Aces GC (17 under). Torque GC finished third at 13 under.
“I knew it would happen,” DeChambeau said of his team winning. “I just didn’t know when it would happen. To start off the year with a crushing victory . . . How much more can you ask for a statement piece? The 4Aces, OK, yeah, great, they won a lot last year. But it’s a different year. It’s 2023.”
To support Howell’s low round, DeChambeau contributed a 3-under 68 while Casey — the first-round co-leader — added a 70. For the captain, it was the first round this week that counted. Lahiri had contributed in the first two rounds.
“Not counting the first few days for me, it was pretty rough last night, so I gave myself a kick in the butt and played a little better today,” DeChambeau said.
In the end, Howell’s 16 under score was almost enough to beat the 4Aces by himself. Casey, who didn’t look at a leaderboard until he reached the final green, was shocked to see the wide margin by which his team was leading. He then asked his caddie about Howell. The response: “He’s crushing it.”
Added Lahiri: “There will be days like this where you kind of ride the hot round, and Charles pulled it through for us.”
Howell had started the final round one stroke off the lead, but while he was producing birdies the co-leaders kept finding trouble. Uihlein’s errant approach shot at the third hole led to bogey, although he bounced back with a birdie and eagle. Gooch had two bogeys on the front, and then struggled down the stretch. When Uihlein triple-bogeyed the 12th, the tournament was essentially in Howell’s hands.
“He won it on the front,” Uihlein said. “He did a heck of a … There wasn’t any pressure on him, and he did exactly what he needed to do, and he executed. He’s a worthy champion.”