The feelgood factor of Europe’s Ryder Cup victory continued for two Members of the European Team at St Andrews - David Howell and Luke Donald - who moved into the top two slots on the leaderboard at the halfway stage of the 2004 dunhill links championship.
Howell took pole position thanks to a 65 on the Old Course to follow his opening 65 at Kingsbarns, a 14 under par total of 130 being one shot ahead of his fellow Ryder Cup debutant Donald, who also carded a 65 at the Home of Golf to add to his first round 66.
Howell, winner of the 1999 Dubai Desert Classic, produced one of the shots of the day into the bargain too, holing a full wedge approach at the 18th hole – his ninth hole of the day having started at the tenth - for an audacious eagle two. Indeed the ball flew straight into the hole with such venom that a tournament official was called in to repair the damage it had done to the cup.
Ironically, his next wedge shot was not quite so memorable, dumping his approach shot at the first into the Swilcan Burn on his way to a bogey five. But the 29 year old Englishman recovered admirably with birdies at the second and third before finishing in style with a five foot birdie putt on the ninth green.
“Because of the Ryder Cup there are a number of feel good factors and I think most guys feel good about themselves at the moment,” he said. “But I am also swinging the club very well just now and hitting lots of good shots so maybe I am walking a half an inch taller.”
Despite having chances to add to his one European Tour win in the Gulf five years ago, Howell has not taken them but he admitted that fact was not giving him any undue concern.
“I wouldn't say that I feel any more urgent about winning again - my main aim is just to try and play better, more consistently and give yourself more chances, which I'm starting to do a little more often.
“I'm going to win again; I have no doubt about that. You know, when that happens, time will tell, but I'm convinced I'll win again. But this week is obviously a great place to start. But I'm not affected by the fact that I have won in five years. I feel like I'm a far better player than when I won before. So all in all, I feel my career is going the right way.”
Another player who can say that about his game is Luke Donald, who has won twice on The European Tour this year already – in the Scandinavian Masters by Carlsberg in August and the Omega European Masters last month – and who would love to complete a memorable hat-trick.
“I’m very pleased with where I am in the tournament,” he said. “I've not in the past played that well in links golf, and I think I've taken full advantage of the generous conditions the last two days. I'm very happy with the way I've played. I've holed some good putts and hit some good shots and I'm in good position.
This event is fun. In the US we play an event like it, the AT&T and it is more relaxing. You have your amateur partners to play with and chat with and give them lines and all that kind of stuff. It takes your mind off the serious stuff and you just learn to relax and enjoy yourself out there.”
Donald made only one bogey in his 65, coming via three putts at the 15th, but he more than made up for it with eight birdies elsewhere, including five in seven holes from the first in a truly impressive run on what was his ‘back’ nine.
The 26 year old agreed with leader Howell about the wave of good will still being generated by events at Oakland Hills Country Club in Detroit last month.
“It was a such a huge week for European golf and a huge week for the 12 guys that played. Something like that, such a huge event like that, to play and win as big as we did is a huge confidence to all of us. I think that we're definitely riding on confidence right now.”
Third place was taken by a South African, but not the one most people expected, World Number Two Ernie Els, who finished in a tie for 11th place after his second successive 68. Instead the leading Springbok honours went to European Tour rookie Louis Oosthuizen, who carded a 65 on the Old Course for a 12 under par total of 132.
Incredibly the 21 year old, a member of the Ernie Els Foundation in his home country, was playing his first round on the Old Course as a professional, having competed at the home of golf as an amateur in 2002, and got off to a superb start.
Indeed his score might have been even better had he not dropped shots at the 16th and 17th holes but he recovered well and ensured that his dinner would taste better with a successful ten foot putt for birdie on the 18th.
Three players shared fourth place on ten under par 134 – Welshman Jamie Donaldson, South African Richard Sterne and first round leader Graeme McDowell.
The Northern Irishman could not quite reproduce the fireworks of his first round course record equalling 62 on the Old Course, but his level par 72 on the Championship Course at Carnoustie was remarkable nonetheless for the fact he recovered from two double bogeys, one at the sixth where he found bunker trouble, and one at the 18th where he found the burn.
In the team competition which is running concurrently, David Howell and his partner, American film star Samuel L Jackson, are joint leaders on 20 under par with former US Ryder Cup player Fred Couples and his partner Craig Heatley, the founder of Sky television in New Zealand.