Howell, Poulter highlight French Open comebacks

David Howell, left, and Ian Poulter finished T-4 at the French Open.

David Howell, left, and Ian Poulter finished T-4 at the French Open.

Marcel Siem might have been the main winner in the French Open, but there were small victories for the supporting cast too.

Siem’s 8-under total of 276 gave him a one-shot victory over Italy’s Francesco Molinari. The Italian shot a closing 64, including a 6-under 29 on the back nine, but came up short of denying Siem his second European Tour victory, and first since the 2004 Dunhill Championship.

Most pleasing amongst the play of the supporting cast was the performance of England’s David Howell. Remember him?

Howell finished T-4, and might have fared better if not for two dropped shots in the first three holes of his closing 72. Nevertheless, fourth is better than where Howell has been lately.

The Englishman was a regular European Tour winner in 2005 and 2006. He won three times in that stretch, including twice in 2006 to take his tally of Euro Tour victories to four.

One of those victories included a defeat of Tiger Woods down the stretch in the HSBC Champions Tournament in China. He also won the Euro Tour’s flagship BMW PGA Championship that season, and had five other top-10 finishes.

It seemed a steppingstone to even greater heights, but instead of stepping up a level, Howell went backward. He finished 142nd on the money list in 2007, 45th in 2008 and slipped to 156th a year later.

He’s improved slightly the last few seasons finishing 93rd in 2009 and 103 both of the last two seasons. However, he’s been a long way from his prime.

The former Ryder Cup player didn’t start this season well. He made just four of 11 cuts, but signs from the last seven events seem to signal his game is on the way back.

“I’m a long way from where I once was, but I've made six cuts in a row and it’s been a long time since I've been able to say that,” Howell said before the French began.

“Obviously I don't measure success on cuts made, but it’s good for the confidence.”

Make it seven, culminating in his best finish since a third-place finish in the 2008 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. “Howeller,” as he is called, is one of the most affable players on the European Tour, and many will be hoping this heralds the start of a comeback.

Sweden’s Henrik Stenson also staged his own mini-comeback. The Swede placed seventh, a welcome return to form considering the Swede hasn’t won on the European Tour since 2007 and anywhere in the world since the 2009 PLAYERS Championship.

Stenson finished no worse than eighth on the Euro money list in four straight seasons between 2005 and 2008. In the last two years he’s finished outside the top 100. Injuries haven’t helped, but Stenson’s struggled with his game too. As with Howell, many will hope Stenson carries this form on for the rest of the season.

European Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal made his first cut in four tournaments. However, he’ll be happiest at the play of England’s Ian Poulter.

Poulter has played in three of the last four Ryder Cups, compiling a fantastic record of 9-2, including an unbeaten record at Celtic Manor two years ago. He is confident he will make this year’s European team despite a slow start.

Poulter finished T-4 alongside Howell, and might have won if he’d played the last two holes better. He bogeyed both.

The flamboyant Englishman moves to 15th on the European points list, and will hope to improve on that in the big events between now and the end of Ryder Cup qualification.

That’s good news for Poulter, Olazabal and European Ryder Cup fans.

And speaking of comebacks, spare a thought for New Zealander Michael Campbell. The 2005 U.S. Open champion closed with a 67 to place 11th, his first top-15 finish since 13th in the 2008 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

So good news all round at Le Golf National in Paris, or as the French would say “C'est Magnifique.”

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