As a consequence
of his tinkering Howell's ball striking began to improve dramatically, and he
still had that short game, a potent combination. At the '04 Ryder Cup in
Bloomfield Hills, Mich., his play passed the ultimate test: the key match of
the competition, a Saturday-morning four-ball alongside fellow Ryder rookie
Paul Casey. The U.S. team was rallying and would win 21/2 points in the
session's other three matches. Howell and Casey were 1 down with two to play
against Jim Furyk and Chad Campbell as they reached the exacting par-3 17th
hole at Oakland Hills. Howell covered the flag with a six-iron, and his
six-footer for birdie squared the match. The Euros then stole a point by
winning the 18th hole. The bang-bang finish shifted the momentum and propelled
Europe to victory.
six-iron was later honored as the shot of the year by the European tour, which
he finds delicious. "I won shot of the year on a flying duff," he says
with typical modesty. "I caught it heavy, but it worked out O.K."
Later that year
Broome Manor Golf Club named its bar after Howell. More than 100 locals turned
out for the party, and Howell brought a special guest--the Ryder Cup. Says Ray,
"I had tears. Of course I did. It meant the world to David and all of
us." Pause. "Of course you'd think I'd get a free drink there
occasionally, but no."
2004, David was asked to preside over the flicking on of the Christmas lights
in Swindon, a cherished tradition. He's been lighting up various golf courses
ever since. In 2005 he won the BMW International Open, his first victory in six
years. Naturally, his momentum was slowed when at the U.S. Open in Pinehurst he
decided to test a weighted club and tore an abdominal muscle, sidelining him
for 21/2 months. But at November's HSBC Championship, Howell ended any
lingering questions about his guts. He held a one-stroke lead over Woods
heading into the final round. Then he staggered Tiger with four birdies in the
first seven holes. In winning, Howell shot a closing 68 to Woods's 70. They
shared a long handshake on the final green. Said Howell, "I told him we
were all honored as golfers to have the chance to beat him, and I said how
privileged we were to be playing in his era."
another scalp at this year's Accenture Match Play Championship, beating Phil
Mickelson in the Sweet 16, and in May he won the Euro tour's flagship event,
the BMW Championship at Wentworth, establishing himself as a U.S. Open dark
horse. At Winged Foot, Howell played the first 14 holes in four under, roaring
to the lead, but a sloppy finish left him at even-par 70, and on Friday he blew
up with a 78 and was spotted flinging a club, the first time anyone could
recall that happening. Howell closed with a 69 to finish 16th, leading the
field with 16 birdies, but uncharacteristically, he also led with six double
bogeys. "There was enough there to show me I'm not a million miles
away," he says. "I lost my patience on Friday, and that was a very
valuable lesson to have learned."
Hoylake, Howell is as focused and confident as he's ever been. He recently
broke up with a longtime girlfriend, but suggest to Howell that he now rates
alongside Prince William as one of Britain's most eligible bachelors and he
mutters, "Oh, dear," before adding, "My life is very simple,
really. I'm single. I don't have a sprawling estate. I don't have a plane to
worry about. I'm simply trying to play as good of golf as I can."
Whether that will
be good enough at the Open Championship remains to be seen. There are also
plenty of other big tournaments ahead, including a little grudge match in
September. No, not the Ryder Cup. We're talking about the club championship at
Queenwood, where Clarke is the titleholder. Howell already has had the bar at
Broome Manor christened in his honor. Now he's ready to make a name for himself
> Read Alan
Shipnuck's daily British Open blog at SI.com/golf.