Howell's runaway win propels him into the world élite
Monday 29 May 2006
A golf writer of yore once famously described a runaway triumph as "a one-horse procession". Well, everybody knew what he meant and even if a few have since been scratching their heads then David Howell gave them the most glorious explanation possible here yesterday.
For Howell did not simply win the BMW Championship; he devastated it. The Englishman's five-shot triumph was as easy as it sounds, in fact easier as he was seven clear beginning the final nine and from there the biggest threat must have seemed boredom.
But then, when the world top 10 is within your sights, when you are leapfrogging Luke Donald as the highest-ranked Brit, and when you are bridging a 17-year English void in the old PGA all the way back to Nick Faldo then it is fairly straightforward to stay interested and Howell gallantly did so as his 69 completed four sub-70 rounds in 17 under. As a gauge of how accomplished that total was, consider that Angel Cabrera's winning score last year was 15-under. And they have since added 310 yards and 30 bunkers.
"This beats my win over Tiger [Woods] last year in China by a million miles," said the unassuming lad from Swindon who will rise to world No 10 in the rankings published today. "This is our flagship event and I'm very honoured and humble, especially in the manner that I did it."
Howell's overnight lead had been three, but three nerveless birdies in the first five holes disabused Miguel Angel Jimenez of any fanciful notion he may catch him and the only real contest then was for second. Thank goodness for the crowds that descended on the West Course on a beautiful spring day that it was to prove a thrilling one, with Essex's Simon Khan leaving behind a dreadful start to the year quite spectacularly to deny Jimenez with a 68. Up until yesterday, the 32-year-old had amassed just £25,000. Now he has more than 10 times that amount, this cheque for £325,000 dwarfing the prize he received for winning the Wales Open two years ago.
It was not all sun-blazed red roses for England, however, as the supposed likely lads of Paul Casey and Nick Dougherty were two last-day flops. If the former's 74 was ugly, then the latter's 78 had elephantiasis, reducing him to level par and, but for an eagle on the last, almost into a laughing stock.
When leading on Friday the 24-year-old recounted a dream that had him shooting a 63 on the final day to win. That is some strong cheese he has been eating, although it is not fair to scoff. This normally beaming picture of youth wore a shellshocked expression which was the most depressing image of the tournament.
Far better to focus on Howell's delight, born of the surprise caused by his irresistible modesty combined with an enforced lay-off with a back injury. "I never think great things are going to happen to me but they do," he said. "God knows what will happen next." For a start, he should already have a space reserved on his creaking mantelpiece for this year's Order of Merit title. This £481,000 haul takes him more than £600,000 clear of Casey and while his countryman is one live threat, a persistent spine complaint looms as the most obvious as Howell may not be able to compete as much as he would like. "I must learn to live with it," he said. "I'm lucky that I'm pretty good fresh."
However, he should not become too obsessed with inscribing his name on the Vardon Trophy as there are now so many pieces of silverware calling him, not least the Ryder Cup in Dublin in September for which he is now a certainty. Before that, he must take on America's finest in the US Open at Winged Foot, New York, in three weeks time and in this form he must be Europe's principal shout of a first win in the second major in more than three decades.
"I'm not the best player in the world but I don't think there's anybody I can't beat on my day," he said. "The rankings don't lie, so I'd better start believing them"
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