Howell was due to face the Australian Geoff Ogilvy, ranked only 52nd of the 64 players who began the week, for a place in the semi-finals, while Padraig Harrington was playing Davis Love following his victory over world No 2 Vijay Singh.
The two European Ryder Cup team-mates had vastly different views of the state of their game. Howell, four under par in beating Mickelson 3 and 1, said: "I played pretty darn well. It was going to be a big challenge playing Phil in his home town, but if you put the scores on the board then whoever it is has got to beat that score."
Harrington was in such disarray with his pre-shot routine and swing that instead of following up his 19th-hole win over Singh with the usual session on the driving range he went to his hotel to try to forget everything ."I don't think I looked like winning a hole - I was trying to avoid losing 7 and 6," said the Dubliner. "I have really struggled and it is amazing I am still here. It's more my routine has totally broken down than my swing. That's what you lose when you take a winter break and I need weeks of practice."
Harrington, twice a winner in America last season, has his eyes on the world rankings, too, mainly because he has slipped outside of the top 20 after reaching as high as sixth. "It's very much on my mind," he added.
It is Howell's rise to 15th that has hit the headlines, though. Until August last year Howell had played over 260 European Tour events and won only one . Then, when his second win eventually came, in the BMW International in Germany, it was just his third event back from injury.
But what made people really sit up and take notice was the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai in November. He went head-to-head with Tiger Woods in the final round and out-scored him. That event started this season's European Order of Merit campaign and finishing No 1 is a big target for 2006.
Another Ryder Cup cap is as well, of course, and seven months out that looks pretty much in the bag.
Woods, meanwhile, has his second weekend off in a row - something he normally experiences only when he is not competing. Last week the world No 1 pulled out of the Nissan Open after two rounds with flu and on Friday he lost on the last to his compatriot Chad Campbell.Reuse content