David Howell – the man whom Tiger Woods nicknamed ‘Cool Dude’ – was calmness personified as he compiled a near faultless 69 to capture the BMW Championship 2006 – The Players’ Flagship. In finishing five strokes ahead of Simon Khan at Wentworth Club, Howell became the first English winner of the famous championship since Nick Faldo’s record breaking fourth title in 1989.
Howell was imperious throughout. Starting the day with a three stroke lead over Miguel Angel Jiménez, he birdied the second, fourth and fifth holes on the remodelled West Course. When his Spanish playing partner bogeyed the lengthened sixth hole, Howell had a six shot cushion.
From that moment on he could ease off the accelerator and, in spite of having the talented duo of Khan and Jiménez in his rear view, the back nine turned into a procession for the supremely-talented 30 year old as he cruised to his second BMW title following last year’s success at the BMW International Open.
Howell closed with a 69 for a 17 under par total of 271 to capture The European Tour’s flagship event and the €708,330 (£481,536) record first prize. Khan, meanwhile, finished birdie-birdie for a 68 and second place on 12 under par, while Jiménez ended a shot further back after a level par 72.
Brett Rumford came through the field to claim fourth place thanks to a best-of-the-day 65, which took the Australian to nine under par 279, while a shot further back was a third Englishman, Richard Bland, who closed with a 68.
Always a modest customer, Howell said: “I suppose I never think great things are going to happen to me, but they seem to keep happening at the moment. I am overwhelmed by winning the BMW Championship – it supersedes everything else I have done, even beating Tiger in China. This is as big as it gets on The European Tour.”
The victory, which also comes with a five year exemption to The European Tour, moved Howell from 17th place into the top ten on the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time. It also meant that in the 28 events he has played since the beginning of The 2005 European Tour International Schedule, he has won three times, finished second twice and amassed a staggering total of €3,587,405 (£2,433,564).
But while Howell justifiably took the headlines, Khan produced a remarkably assured performance of his own that deserved huge recognition. Having come into the tournament with little form to speak of – he had missed three of his previous four cuts and was 159th on the Order of Merit – Khan outscored Jiménez and his playing partner Paul Casey, both Ryder Cup players, to finish in sole charge of second place.
Playing with Casey seems to bring out the best in the 33 year old Englishman. Two years ago he beat Casey in a play-off to win his maiden European Tour title at The Celtic Manor Wales Open, after outscoring his compatriot by three strokes in the final round. This time he beat his partner by six.
“When I look back I will know that this has been a really great week. You can’t really complain about shooting a 68 on the final day, but in saying that I was trying to shoot a low score but it didn’t really happen. When I looked at the leaderboard for the first time at the 16th I felt a bit deflated and three-putted from off the front of the green. But David is a great mate and I am delighted for him,” said Khan.
The runners-up cheque of €472,220 (£321,024) moved Khan up 144 places to 15th on the Order of Merit and he admitted: “I’ve been walking past boards and not looking at the Order of Merit – maybe I will start finally looking at it now.
“I have been working hard with my coach Matt Belsham and I have got back to my normal game this week – hitting fairways and hitting good iron shots. That is really pleasing.”
For Jimenez, the fun-loving Spaniard, it was also his best result of the 2006 season and a welcome boost ahead of next week’s title defence at The Celtic Manor Resort Wales Open. He said: “It’s a very good week. On the last couple of holes I was looking to make birdies and finish second, but it just didn’t happen. It’s a pity.”
However, the day belonged firmly to Howell and no one among the packed galleries on the West Course could deny he deserved the victory after rounds of 68-65-69-69. And neither could Woods when he was beaten by Howell at the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai last November.
Cool Dude? Woods was certainly not wrong.
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