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Howell defends his title, and his career in the Tiger Era

Charles Howell III, Northern Trust Open, Riviera Country Club
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Charles Howell III has three top 25s this season.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — With two years left in his 20s, Sergio Garcia already has won 16 times around the world and seriously contended in the majors, including runner-up finishes to Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington.

"Sergio Garcia, he's a failure. Really,'' Charles Howell III said in a voice hoarse from a commercial shoot and dripping with sarcasm. "The guy has had a hell of a career, but in a lot of people's eyes he hasn't won a major so he needs to hang it up and quit.''

Majors aren't the only problem, and maybe not even the biggest.

It's Tiger Woods.

Howell knows from experience, one of a growing list of young players who arrive on the PGA Tour with high expectations and get buried under an avalanche of comparisons with Woods.

Howell, 28, won at Riviera last year by closing with a 65, getting into a playoff thanks to a late mistake by Phil Mickelson, and making three clutch pars to outlast Mickelson on the third extra hole.

It was only the second victory of Howell's career, feeding the perception that he's an underachiever.

Take Woods out of the picture, and Howell's career might not look that bad. He earned his card without going to Q-school, was voted rookie of the year, has made the Presidents Cup team twice, and is a regular at the U.S. Tour Championship.

Howell is the defending champion at a tournament now called the Northern Trust Open, with a strong field that includes eight of the top 10 players in the world, minus only Woods and Ernie Els.

Riviera is loaded with talented young players, all of them held to a higher standard because of Woods.

"Tiger has skewed the bar to an extent where a lot of times the young players are judged on a little different scale, as opposed to being patient, knowing that in the peak of many careers, guys are in their mid to late 30s,'' Howell said.

When he turned 30, Woods already had won 54 times worldwide and 10 majors, including the career Grand Slam twice over. No one before or after Woods came along has won so much so soon.

"At some point in time, it's going to be unfair to compare Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods,'' Paul Goydos said earlier this year. "What he's accomplished is nuts. It's nuts. To even mention Tiger in the same conversation with young players and what they're going to accomplish is blatantly unfair.''

Adam Scott took the trophy home from Riviera in 2005, although it wasn't an official victory because rain allowed for only 36 holes, and Scott beat Chad Campbell in a one-hole playoff on a Monday. Scott, 27, has five other U.S. PGA Tour victories in reputable places, such as The Players Championship, U.S. Tour Championship and the Deutsche Bank Championship.

He has climbed as high as No. 3 in the world, yet getting to No. 1 can look next to impossible at times.

"For me, all my life as a kid dreamt of being No. 1 in the world,'' Scott once said. "How am I going to live up to that dream? I've got to somehow figure a way to play better than this guy over a pretty long period of time.''

Garcia is making his U.S. PGA Tour debut this year at Riviera, trying to put behind him a season in which he was on the cusp of his first major until a bogey on the 72nd hole at the British Open, then losing it in a playoff.

Also at Riviera is Justin Rose, 27, who captured the Order of Merit on the European tour last year. Luke Donald is now 30, and while he has played on the last two Ryder Cup teams for Europe, he has only two victories on the U.S. PGA Tour.

Donald joked on Tuesday that his U.S. schedule has him playing many of the same tournaments Woods enters.

"Whether that's why I've only won two tournaments on the PGA Tour, I'm not sure,'' he said.

The spotlight seems to shine on one newcomer every year, from Garcia to Howell, from Scott to Geoff Ogilvy, and others such as J.B. Holmes, Anthony Kim and now Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Jason Day of Australia.

Scott said this would be an important year for the 20-year-old Day, a rookie on the tour, as long as the bar was set moderately.

"Just to get himself steady out here,'' Scott said. "Not saying that he can't come out and win tournaments, because he certainly has the ability, but a good, solid year out here would be great for Jason.''

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