Golf: Howell earns maiden victory

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The Independent Online
NOT EVEN a stirring final round by runner-up Lee Westwood, who is shaking off the rust from his game after his recent honey-moon, could prevent David Howell from achieving a commanding victory in the Desert Classic yesterday. Westwood, starting the last day four behind, scored a five-under-par 67. His only problem was that so did Howell, another member of the stable that includes Westwood, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley, who tied for third with the Ryder Cup captain, Mark James.

Their manager, Chubby Chandler, will have earned more from his percentages this week than many of the players did on the Dubai Creek course.

This was Howell's maiden victory on the European tour and it was a good one. The field was the strongest so far and the set-up of the course was severe. For much of the back nine, the 23-year-old from Swindon led by six shots before winning by four. His only previous professional win came in Australia.

"This was a fantastic performance from David," Westwood said. "Perhaps he realised he is better than he gave himself credit for." Howell did not look at a leaderboard until the 14th, when he saw he was leading by five, with Westwood the next man back. "I said to myself, `don't mess it up now', but the way I was playing I was confident of winning," Howell said.

Though his first three years on the European tour did not produce a win, he has steadily improved on the Order of Merit. A streaky player, he has become more consistent after turning to Peter Cowen, coach of both Westwood and Clarke.

"I played with David in practice for the Open two years ago and he was long but wild," said James. "Yet to win here shows he kept it under control." There is no doubt Howell will be in contention for a place in James's Ryder Cup team.

"I played in the Walker Cup and that was my ambition in the amateurs," Howell said. "Watching the Ryder Cup on TV gives me such a thrill that I promised myself one day I'll make it."

Westwood missed the cut last week in Malaysia, but played the last 43 holes without dropping a shot. None of his five birdies came from a putt longer than four feet and his lack of success on the greens showed that his ball-striking was improving again. "That felt more like my normal self," Westwood said. "It was nice to find the middle of the club face." His next appearance will be at the Andersen Consulting World Matchplay in California.

Colin Montgomerie slipped into fifth without being happy on the greens and will see the putting specialist, Dave Pelz, in San Diego during the Matchplay.

The line-up for the Matchplay will be decided this morning when Nick Faldo finds out whether to divert from Qatar to California.

Scores, Digest, page 11

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