Howell holds off Tiger to secure Shanghai surprise

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"England's weekend," they will no doubt call it, although the headline junkies might overlook what is perhaps the finest achievement of all. In going head-to-head with Tiger Woods and beating him squarely in Shanghai yesterday, David Howell not only became the first Englishman to stare down the world No 1 in the final group of a professional event but also completed a remarkable transformation for one of sport's nice men.

Before yesterday, Howell had seemed walking, smiling proof that those of his ilk do indeed finish second. The 30-year-old did win at the BMW International in August, but this was no sort of return for a golfer of his talent who had waited since 1999 to replicate his triumph in Dubai, suffering a whole raft of runners-up placings in the process.

After this win in the HSBC Champions Tournament he can call himself Britain's No 1 golfer, leapfrogging Luke Donald and Colin Montgomerie in rising to No 13 in the world rankings, and also one of the richest having earned himself £475,000.

But these achievements will fade into the background when this citizen of Swindon reflects on the glory of toppling Woods in the cacophonous surroundings of a packed Sheshan International.

The many thousands who turned up would have believed the overnight one-shot cushion he enjoyed to be of scant comfort at all. But by the time the seventh hole had been negotiated, Howell already had four birdies, was five clear and even the Tiger was flailing.

However, two holes later there was only two in it as two bogeys from Howell brought his pursuer ever nearer, and it took a nerveless birdie on the 401-yard 10th to lengthen his quivering legs again.

From there it was only Woods whose resolve buckled as he thinned a chip into the water on the 14th, tried to drive the green at the 288-yard par four 16th, but pushed it into the hazard to take bogey, and even his birdie at the last was nothing more than consolation.

Howell's 68 had not only protected his lead but actually improved it, his 20-under total beating Woods by four with Nick Dougherty and the Australian left-hander Nick O'Hern two shots further back.

On the 18th green, Howell told Woods: "We are all honoured to have a chance to beat you and I feel privileged to be playing at the same time." Later he added: "Tiger has become a legend already. Playing with him is like an FA Cup final for the underdogs.

"It's taken me a while, but I am coming to realise that I am pretty good," he said. "As a kid I never dreamed this would happen. It was a massive learning experience for me out there. I was like a swan - all serene at the top, but paddling like hell underneath. I was nervous all day, but I am not sure it was because of Tiger. It was a big tournament, I wanted to win and I was more worried about how I would cope, how I would get through it."

The last time he played alongside his Ryder Cup rival - whose second appearance in next September's biennial match is almost assured by this victory - was in the third round of the Masters in April. Then, Woods prevailed by the embarrassing scoreline of 65-76 en route to his fourth green jacket, but in China the golf spikes were on the other foot.

"David has worked hard and that's what happens,' said Woods, who has now had two seconds in as many weeks following his 'failure' at last week's Tour Championship. "You're going to improve when you put in time he has and he certainly deserves this."

Woods also had kind words for Darren Clarke, who defended his Taiheiyo title in Japan, and won his first tournament of a year dominated by his wife's fight with cancer.

"What Darren's had to deal with I feel so sorry for him," said Woods. "I can't imagine the things he's had to deal with. He's one of my best friends and this win is so good for him."

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