At the start of 2013, Charles Howell III was just as unlikely as any other player outside the top 100 in the world rankings to qualify for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
With a strong start to the year, though, he jumped all the way to No. 64 in the latest rankings released Sunday night and will appear in the year's first World Golf Championship event, which will be held Feb. 20-24 in Marana, Ariz.
Howell III is one of just four players who started the year outside the top 100 yet qualified to play in the Arizona desert. Richard Sterne (154th at the end of 2012, 55th now), Russell Henley (131st, 56th) and Chris Wood (139th, 60th) are the others.
Howell III hopes to parlay qualifying for the Match Play into an invitation to the Masters. If he can win a few matches to move inside the top 50 in the world rankings -- and stay there until March 31 -- he'll tee it up in back-to-back Masters for the first time since 2007-08.
The Augusta, Ga., native went from 117th in the world to start the season up to No. 96 with a third-place tie in his first event of the year, the Sony Open. A playoff loss to Brian Gay at the Humana Challenge moved Howell up to 66th, and a ninth-place finish at the Farmers Insurance Open got him inside the top 64 to No. 63.
One of the players who qualified for the Match Play but won't be teeing it up is Phil Mickelson. He said last week that he would skip the event for the third time in four years since his kids are on school vacation and he plans to take a family trip. As a result, 65th-ranked Shane Lowry from Ireland got into the field and likely will play No. 1 seed Rory McIlroy.
Lowry got in by the slimmest of margins, all because of a birdie putt thousands of miles away from his home in Ireland.
Patrick Reed holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the last hole Sunday at Pebble Beach for a two-way tie for seventh with Fredrik Jacobson. That meant Jacobson moved up only to No. 66 by 0.0002 points behind Lowry.
Hunter Mahan is the defending WGC-Match Play champion. He defeated McIlroy in last year's finals at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain.
With his victory at Pebble Beach on Sunday, Brandt Snedeker jumped up to No. 4 in the world and is the second-highest ranked American behind Tiger Woods (No. 2). Snedeker likely will be a No. 1 seed when the Match Play brackets are released Feb. 17.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.