2006: Howell in gear at BMW
Virginia Water, England
David Howell probably sent Ernie Els back to the drawing board. The South African’s revamped Wentworth course was supposed to have new teeth for the BMW Championship, but Howell took out any supposed bite.
Howell earned the biggest victory of his career, romping to a five-shot victory by shooting17-under 271. The 30-year-old earned 708,330 euros ($903,000) to solidify his position atop the European Order of Merit.
He is 840,118 euros ahead of nearest rival Paul Casey.
Fellow Englishman Simon Khan finished second at 12-under 276 after a closing 68. Miguel Angel Jimenez was third at 277.
Els added 30 new bunkers and 236 yards to Wentworth’s West Course. Howell played the course as if it was the same old layout Europe’s top pros had been playing for the last 22 years.
Howell’s 271 total would have won the tournament in 12 of those 22 years, and would have been in a playoff four other times. He became the first Englishman to take the Tour’s flagship event since Nick Faldo in 1989.
It was Howell’s second victory of 2006 following the HSBC Champions Tournament to open the season, and his fourth European Tour title.
“This is the biggest win of my career by a million miles,” Howell said. “It doesn’t come any bigger than this in Europe, so I am honored and delighted to have my name put on this trophy.
“There has been some wonderful winners over the years, and I never dreamed I would get my name on the trophy. I am very honored and humbled that I am able to join this fantastic list.”
Howell also is virtually guaranteed to make his second consecutive appearance on the European Ryder Cup team as he is now first in the Cup points standings.
Khan, who won the 2004 Celtic Manor Wales Open, had his best finish of the year.
“I hoped to challenge for the title, but the first time I looked at the leaderboard was the 16th and I felt a little deflated,” Khan said.
Jimenez looked the most likely to give Howell a fight to the finish. The veteran campaigner entered the final round three shots behind Howell. However, a closing 72 dashed Jimenez’s hopes of becoming the first Spaniard to win the title since Ignacio Garrido in 2003.
“I tried to win but the last couple of holes I was just looking to make some birdies and finish second, not third,” Jimenez said.
Howell may have entered the tournament as European money leader, but this tournament was supposed to favor the big hitters. Howell isn’t short off the tee by any means, but he’s not in the same league as defending champion Angel Cabrera, Els, Retief Goosen, Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson. The smart money was on one of these sluggers carrying off the title, especially after constant rain made the Wentworth course play much longer.
In the end it fell to three modest hitters to take the top honors, with the affable Howell proving consistency is more important than brute strength. Howell made only four bogeys all week. It’s an asset that will help him when he turns up at Winged Foot Golf Club in a couple weeks for the U.S. Open.
With the victory, Howell firmly marked himself as a leading contender to become the first European to win a major since Paul Lawrie (1999 British Open).
“If I can drive it like I did this week, then I certainly fancy my chances of doing reasonably well,” Howell said. “I’ve always been able to putt. If I can keep it on the course and hit the greens, I should be able to cope. I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be able to.”
U.S. Open champion isn’t a term you could have applied to the Englishman when he played in the 1995 Walker Cup. Back then he was something of a controversial choice, with many feeling countryman Gary Harris should have made the team instead. Howell proved he was the right choice. He has gone on to fame and glory while Harris has fallen into obscurity.
That’s not to say Howell is convinced he is Europe’s No. 1 player at the moment. There are many modest men plying their trade on European fairways, but it’s hard to think of one more unassuming than the quiet man from Swindon, England.
Howell always gives the impression he cannot believe his luck. That if he were to pinch himself his bubble would burst, and he’d find himself at the foot of the European food chain rather than at the top.
“I don’t see myself as the best player in Europe, no,” Howell said.
“I don’t think I go around thinking of myself as a brilliant golfer. I’m becoming more comfortable with my position in the game.”
Howell better start believing. His Wentworth performance proved his status is beyond reproach.