Charles Howell III has been surprising just about everyone but himself. Last year, the 43-year-old from Augusta, Georgia, was among the more curious recruits to join the upstart LIV Golf circuit given that he appeared entrenched on the PGA Tour, where he had amassed more than $US42 million across 21 years and 609 starts. But he joined LIV and debuted at its Bedminster event in New Jersey last July.

When Howell showed up to the opener to LIV’s second season this past week at the El Camaleon Golf Course in Mexico’s Mayakoba Resort, not even LIV pundits predicted him to win the $US4 million individual title (he ranks 312th in the Official World Golf Ranking) or that the four-man squad he plays for, Crushers GC, would claim the $US3 million team prize. But Howell, of course, knew his history at the course that the PGA Tour visited the previous 15 years before jumping itself to the Saudi Arabia-funded LIV this year.

“I’ve played here many times before, and I had an idea of what to expect coming in,” Howell said, having finished in the top seven at the PGA Tour event in 2013, ’16 and ’17.

On Saturday night, most golf fans would not have picked Howell to win despite being only a shot behind younger, more in-form co-leaders Peter Uihlein and Talor Gooch at nine-under. But the man himself foreshadowed it. “You feel like there’s a guy lurking that goes and shoots 63 or 64 and go and win the golf tournament,” Howell said after round two.

Turns out he was that guy to shoot 63 and win the golf tournament – by four shots. Gooch never got comfortable en route to a five-over 76, while Uihlein looked ready to win after an eagle at the par-5 fifth hole. But he couldn’t stop the Howell Express, not helping himself by making a disastrous triple-bogey 7 at the par-4 12th as his foe was charging up the leaderboard with seven birdies in his first 10 holes.

Although Uihlein birdied four of his last five holes, Howell added one more birdie to finish the 54 holes at 16-under par 197. It was Howell’s first victory since 2018, when he claimed his third PGA Tour title at the RSM Classic. Uihlein’s closing 68 gave him a 12-under score and a second runner-up finish in nine LIV starts (racking up $US2.125 million in the process). South Africa’s Branden Grace was third at 10-under, with Cam Smith the best of the Australians, sharing fifth place at six-under. The All-Australian Ripper GC (Smith, Marc Leishman, Matt Jones and Jed Morgan) was one shot and one position out of the team prizemoney, finishing equal fourth at 12-under.

Asked what he could have done differently, Uihlein, 33, quipped: “Skip the 12th.”

But Howell said he held some uncertainty at Mayakoba, mainly his ability to close out. He referenced his record on the PGA Tour, where Howell’s talent and ball-striking prowess largely took a back seat to his close friend Tiger Woods during his golden years. Out of Howell’s 609 starts, there were 98 top-10s and plenty of missed opportunities. He registered 16 runner-up finishes and 10 third-place showings but only the three victories. In all, his $US42,025,458 has him at 23rd on the PGA Tour’s all-time career money leaders despite playing on LIV now.

“I’ve played 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,” said Howell, who is now based in Orlando, Florida. “To do it against this competition with these guys standing up here around is more than I could ever dream of. I’m extremely thankful.”