Los Angeles:Charles Howell III finally ended that nasty habit of finishing second, making three clutch pars in a playoff that delivered a dramatic victory over Phil Mickelson in the Nissan Open on Sunday. Howell closed with a six-under 65 and got into a playoff when Mickelson bogeyed the 18th hole. Howell put away the two-time Masters champion with his third straight par save, holing a three-foot putt on the 14th hole and raising his head to the sky in utter relief. "I said a prayer before I hit the putt," Howell said, his voice cracking. "I said, 'It's time. Go in.'" It was only the second victory of his career, and Howell had been haunted by nine runner-up finishes since winning the now-defunct Michelob Championship in 2002. He already had two runner-up finishes in four starts this year, including three weeks ago against Tiger Woods down the coast at Torrey Pines. Asked which was more meaningful, the Nissan Open or '02 at Kingsmill, the 27-year-old didn't hesitate. "This one," he said. "Because of the five-year gap between them. It's been a long, long time since I won a title." Mickelson, bidding for his second straight US PGA Tour victory, had control throughout the playoff until coming up short of the green on the par-3 14th. He opted for putter, but it took a high hop leaving the blade and stopped 10 feet short. The par putt missed to the right. Howell also was short, but his chip came out nicely just beyond the cup. "I had every chance on the back nine to create some separation and not give anyone a chance," said Mickelson, who twice missed putts inside 4 feet and closed with a 68. "I felt like I had the tournament in my grasp and let it go." They finished at 16-under 268. Ernie Els (67), Jim Furyk (67) and Robert Allenby (68) tied for third, three shots out of the playoff.