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Howell gains share of lead

CHICAGO (AFP) – Charles Howell III, trying to snap a decade-long win drought, fired a bogey-free eight-under par 63 Thursday to match fellow American Ollie Schniederjans for the first-round lead at the US PGA John Deere Classic.

Howell, who settled for his 16th career PGA runner-up finish two weeks ago in Washington, is playing his 295th event since last winning a US tour event at Riviera in 2007 by beating Phil Mickelson in a playoff.

South Africa’s Rory Sabbatini shared third on 65 with Americans Chad Campbell, Patrick Rodgers and Zach Johnson, the 2015 British Open champion.

Howell, playing for a third consecutive week after returning from a 10-week layoff for a fractured rib, booked a spot in next week’s British Open with his latest second-place effort.

The 38-year-old Augusta, Georgia, native would love nothing better this week than to enter his first major since the 2015 PGA Championship, and first British Open since 2012, by ending his victory hoodoo. His best result in 40 major starts was a share of 10th at the 2003 PGA.

Howell opened on the back nine with back-to-back birdies, his first birdie putt from six feet and second from twice as far, added another at 14 and struck for back-to-back birdies again at the par-3 16th and par-5 17th, putting his approach two feet from the cup on the former and two-putting from 75 feet on the latter.