David Howell took a huge step towards European Tour history when he moved into a share of the lead with fellow Englishman Gary Evans, Sweden’s Martin Erlandsson and Garry Houston of Wales after the first round of the BMW International Open at Golfclub München-Nord, Eichenried.
No-one has ever won the European Tour Order of Merit from wire-to-wire but Howell now has that chance having moved into pole position after victory in the season opening HSBC Champions tournament in China and never leaving the lofty perch.
A slump in form recently saw players such as Robert Karlsson and Paul Casey close the gap but defending champion Howell relished his return to Munich and showed just how much with a blistering finish to his opening round of 67 which featured birdies at the seventh and eighth holes and an eagle three to close at the 557 yard ninth where his three wood second finished a mere eight feet from the pin.
“Hopefully that is going to be the turning-point now,” he said. “The poor run I've had came as a bit of a shock because it had been two or three months plain sailing up to then.
"I've just worked hard and hoped I could start rolling in the putts again, sure I would turn things around eventually. Obviously with the big one (Ryder Cup) not far away, I'm delighted with today."
Also understandably delighted were the players sharing top spot with him after their respective 67s; Erlandsson rolling in four birdies in a row from the third hole, Evans – who has admitted his two-year battle with injury is now finally at an end with his impending retirement from European Tour competition at the end of this season – recovering from a bogey six at the ninth to card four birdies on his inward half, and Houston, in the last match of the day, dropping no shots in a flawless effort.
Amongst the eight players in a tie for fifth place after opening 68s was another player bound for The K Club, England’s Luke Donald, who partnered Howell, and one man desperate to be on the flight to Ireland, Lee Westwood, so desperate in fact to be considered for one of Ian Woosnam’s wild card selections that he played despite feeling very much under the weather with tonsillitis and a fever.
Having spoken to Woosnam on Tuesday, Westwood, with no chance of qualifying automatically, felt he needed to show willing if he were to be considered for one of the captain's two 'picks' he will name on Sunday night after the ten automatic spots have been decided.
Westwood's illness, excerbated, he said, by not being given strong enough antibiotics by an American doctor last week, nearly took its toll, however, he admitted.
"My legs started to go at the end of the round, they felt like jelly, and my head was spinning round. If it wasn't Ryder Cup qualifying I'd certainly be in bed in England. My technique is improving all the time and that got me through today. All-in-all it was fairly successful and a good reason for coming.
"But I've asked myself to play in 90 degrees and 95 degrees humidity last week and then get on a plane and travel 14 hours, spend two days in bed, then fly to Germany, concentrate and try to play golf at the highest level to impress somebody to get into The Ryder Cup - it's draining."
Trying to play on both sides of the Atlantic this season have caused his Ryder Cup qualifying problems, Westwood said. The death of his grandmother, contributing to seven successive missed cuts after the Masters that ended his Cup chances, and worries over his great friend Darren Clarke's late wife Heather also affected him, he admitted.
In terms of the Ryder Cup qualification, it was not a great start to the tournament for the absent José Maria Olazábal, who saw his chances of dropping out of the top five on the Ryder Cup World Points List increase when Colin Montgomerie (who needs to finish in the top 47 to knock him out), opened with a two under par 70 to lie tied 24th.
Should that happen, Olazábal would drop down to the bottom of the Ryder Cup European Points List and become the target for the four players who can catch him should they finish in, at least, third place in this, the final counting event.
In that realm, the news was a little better for Olazábal as best score of the chasing pack came from Thomas Björn who opened with a one under par 71 to lie in a tie for 43rd, while the other scores undoubtedly noted by the Spaniard back home were Paul Broadhurst and Johan Edfors (both level par 72 for tied 62nd), and John Bickerton (one over par 73 for tied 80th).