With Adam Scott comfortably in front to begin the final round of the Booz Allen Classic, most of his closest pursuers were all but resigned to jockeying for second and the accompanying paycheck of $518,400. Defending champion Rory Sabbatini said as much after Saturday's third round, as did Olin Browne, both of whom were bunched in a pack well off the lead but within two shots of each other.
Charles Howell III, who began seven shots behind, was not ready to concede anything.
"I thought I could catch him, actually," said Howell, who Thursday set the tournament record with a 10-under 61, shot a 65 yesterday and finished alone in second at 17 under.
A rising star on the PGA Tour, Howell made good on that inclination with a stirring run on the back nine. There, he made five consecutive birdies to get to 18 under, and when Scott bogeyed No. 14, the lead was two.
"It got close there for a while," Howell said, "and it's all I could expect to do starting the day as far back as I was.
"I definitely thought 17 [under] would win. Sure I did. If you look at the scores here in the past -- I know 14 under won here last year -- you know I thought I would have had a good chance, but Adam played fantastic."
None of Howell's peers threatened the lead by more than four shots at TPC at Avenel, which was ripe for scoring. Of the top six finishers, five shot in the sixties, including Sabbatini at 66. The South African, who won the event last year when it was the FBR Capital Open, got within four with consecutive birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 to drop to 15 under. That burst came on the heels of a front nine that included four birdies in a row.
"I had the putter going," said Sabbatini, who had seven one-putt greens yesterday. "I felt like I played solid. I hit the ball well, and I putted nicely. It just happened that some of the putts stopped going in, but I came out and played my best today, and unfortunately my score wasn't low enough to scare anybody up at the top. But I had it going for a while, and I enjoyed it while it lasted."
It never got started for Browne, who started at 12 under and played with Scott in the final group. The D.C. native and St. Albans alum carded a 1-over 72 for his worst score in four rounds.
A handful of other players reached 12 under or better, including Tim Herron and second-year tour player Arron Oberholser. Herron reached that number when he holed out with a wedge from 84 yards at the par-4 14th. Oberholser, meantime, got to 14 under through five holes on the back nine before making bogeys at 15 and 17 for a round of 1-under 70.
"You just kind of have to go with the approach that you can only do what you can do," said Sabbatini, who finished alone in third and pocketed $326,400. "So you've just got to go out focused on your own game and run your own race, and hopefully it would be good enough. But as I said yesterday, Adam's a great player, he's a strong player, and you know he showed it today."