DAVID HOWELL is hoping to re-ignite his Ryder Cup career after ending a seven-year itch by winning the £3.1 million Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.
The Englishman has played on two victorious European teams against the Americans – at Oakland Hills in 2004 and The K Club two years later.
His hopes of being back in the Ryder Cup spotlight looked slim when the qualifying race for Paul McGinley’s team got underway in Switzerland a few weeks back.
Indeed, at that stage it seemed more likely that Howell would be heading to Gleneagles next September as a member of the Sky Sports team.
But the 38-year-old woke up today with a Ryder Cup return firmly in his sights after landing a first European Tour triumph since 2006.
“You can’t get into the Ryder Cup without winning tournaments and playing in the World Golf Championships,” he said after beating American Peter Uihlein in a play-off at St Andrews. “It’s impossible to get in without playing in the biggest events and that’s what makes a tournament victory like this so important.
“Earlier today, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to play in the Perth International [in a fortnight’s time]. Or whether I would get into the BMW Masters in China or make The Race to Dubai.
“I’d love to play in another Ryder Cup, so this is a big step on that road. When you’re not playing well, the Ryder Cup is a pretty nerve-wracking event.
“You can only really cope with it if you’re playing extremely good golf. You wouldn’t want to have been playing in the Ryder Cup playing as poorly as I have in the last four or five years.
“But, on the back of a big victory like this, it’s going to be on my mind much more than it was just a couple of hours ago.”
Howell clinched a cheque for £495,153 by defeating Uihlein with a birdie on the second extra hole after both men had finished on 23 under par.
It was Howell’s first win since the 2006 BMW PGA Championship, and moved the Englishman – whose amateur playing partner was actor Hugh Grant – to 12th place in The Race to Dubai.
Howell had previously lost all four of the play-offs in which he had competed – to Thomas Levet at the 2001 British Masters, to Thomas Björn at the 2005 British Masters, to Stephen Dodd at the 2005 Irish Open, and to Grégory Bourdy at the 2008 Open de Portugal.
But, after he and Uihlein had both parred the first extra hole, Howell got the monkey off his back with an eight-foot birdie putt on the 18th to complete a heart-warming tale of redemption for one of the Tour’s most likeable individuals, who revealed some dubious decisions he had made, both on and off the course, contributed to his drastic slide down the world rankings from a career-high of ninth place in 2006.
Howell, whose wife Emily is expecting twins in December, said: “It’s been an interesting seven years. We’ve talked a lot about the ups and downs of it all, and the downs were really pretty low.
“I lost my way in life and on the course, as well, but obviously it’s a really sweet moment and life off the course life has never been better. To finally win a massive championship really seals things for me. I’m in a very happy place now – it really doesn’t get much better than winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at the Home of Golf.”
Overnight leader Uihlein, who bogeyed the first hole but rallied with four birdies in a round of 69, was understandably disappointed after coming so close to securing the second victory of his fledgling European Tour career, but could console himself with a cheque for £393,038 which moved the American into the top ten in the Race to Dubai.
He said: “Hats off to David, he played great and made a nice birdie on the 18th, so congrats to him. He made more putts than I did at the end of the day, so I’m proud of him. I just didn’t make the putts when I needed to, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
• HAMPERED by Connor Scott’s retirement, Duddingston finished 14th in the TSG Scottish Club Championship at Luffness New, where Glenbervie claimed the title by a shot from both Southerness and Craigie Hill.