He made the world sit up and take notice when he went head to head with Tiger Woods in the HSBC Champions in Shanghai last November and beat him, and David Howell continued to give notice that he deserves his place at golf’s top table with a stunning victory over Phil Mickelson in the third round of the World Golf Championships – Accenture Match Play in California.
Despite being very much the underdog in the eyes of the bookmakers and second favourite to the majority of the crowd who had made the short trip to the La Costa Resort & Spa from Mickelson’s home town of San Diego, Howell showed his class and true golfing pedigree with a 3 and 1 victory to move into the quarter-finals.
It was the highlight of a fine afternoon at the Carlsbad course for The European Tour contingent as Howell was joined in the last eight by Padraig Harrington who saw off World Number Two Vijay Singh at the 19th, and Retief Goosen, who ended the challenge of his fellow European Tour Member Luke Donald on the home green.
However the performance of the day came from Howell who stunned the American gallery, still reeling from the defeat of World Number One Tiger Woods on the final green by Chad Campbell.
The 30 year old Englishman, who had earlier seen off Steve Elkington and Scott Verplank, started positively and a birdie at the par five third put him one ahead. He held that lead until Mickelson birdied the second par five of the front nine – the eighth – and the pair turned all square.
However, into the back nine, Howell showed his ability with a stunning 45 foot birdie putt at the 12th to take the lead again and when a superb approach shot to 15 feet at the 14th for a birdie three put him two up, the writing was on the wall for the reigning US PGA Champion.
Steady pars saw Howell safely negotiate the 15th and 16th holes and he put the icing on the cake with a fantastic finish to his round, again holing from 15 feet for a winning birdie to close out the match 3 and 1 as Mickelson could do no better than par.
“I am delighted, obviously,” said Howell who now meets Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy, a winner at the 21st hole over Canada’s Mike Weir. “It was always going to be a big challenge playing Phil in his home town but I have been playing nicely and if you manage to put the scores on the board then whoever you are playing, has to beat those scores.
“I didn’t really feel nervous at all out there and I felt good coming down the stretch and I thought I played pretty darn well. I played the seventh and the eighth pretty poorly to let Phil back into things but other than that I played really pretty well.”
Moments after the Number Five seed bit the dust, the Number Two seed, Vijay Singh, also departed at the hands of Padraig Harrington although the Irishman, still at odds with his game after his traditional lengthy winter break, admitted he did not know quite how he had managed such a feat.
One down for most of the day, Harrington took advantage of a Singh’s bogey at the 15th to go one up, although the pendulous nature of the match emerged once again at the 16th where Harrington found the bunker with his tee shot en route to a bogey four, and the match was level again.
It stayed that way coming down the 18th where Harrington had a ten foot putt for a winning birdie four, but saw the ball remain above ground. It sent the duo down the first once again and, this time, a Singh error proved crucial, driving the ball into the fairway bunker from where he could to no better that a bogey five, Harrington’s par enough for an unlikely victory…..in the Irishman’s eyes at least.
“Certainly the last two days, the guys I have played have had the opportunity to take the match if they’d holed putts at the right time,” said Harrington, who now faces Davis Love III after the former US PGA Champion had seen off his fellow American Chris DiMarco 3 and 2.
“But neither of them finished it out and that gave me a chance and of course I got the breaks at the right time. So it is definitely the opposition’s doing rather than mine. I am just holding on in there with my shots and seeing what happens.”
Completing The European Tour contingent in the quarter finals was Retief Goosen who edged a close encounter with Luke Donald on the home green, and will now come up against Zach Johnson in the last eight, the young American having put paid to Japan’s Shingo Katayama by 4 and 3.
The ding-dong nature of the contest was summed up by the final hole. Goosen, one up, looked favourite when he splashed out his bunker shot to three feet but the putt was made a little longer when Donald pitched in from off the green for his own birdie four. However, Goosen held his nerve to roll his own birdie putt in to progress to the quarter finals for the second year running.
“Me and Luke perhaps didn’t shoot the lights out today but it was always a tight game,” he said. “I had a little bit of a scare when he chipped in on me there at the 18th, but thankfully I was able to make my putt to win.
“So far I’ve been pretty consistent, just keeping the ball in play and always keeping pressure on my opponents. So I’ve not been down once so far in any of the matches. I try to get on top of the guys pretty early and stay there.”
Outside the performances of The European Tour contingent, the most talked about player at La Costa on day three was American Chad Campbell who held his nerve wonderfully well to beat Tiger Woods.
Campbell birdied the fourth to go one up and he was never behind again. He reached three up at the tenth and despite a couple of wobbles on the inward half, held on to close out the match with a half in par five on the 18th green.
His reward is a quarter-final tie against American Ryder Cup Captain Tom Lehman who continued to show he could well be an asset to the American Team inside the ropes rather than outside them at The K Club in September with an assured performance to beat the defending champion David Toms by 4 and 3.