David Howell (Getty Images)
David Howell celebrated reaching the end of a "long, long road from the depths of despair" after claiming his first European Tour title in seven years by beating American Peter Uihlein in a sudden-death play-off at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Howell carded a final round of 67 to set the clubhouse target at St Andrews and then watched as overnight leader Uihlein missed from 15 feet for a winning birdie on the 18th, meaning the pair finished tied on 23 under par.
Both players narrowly missed long birdie attempts on the first extra hole but Howell, who had lost all four of his previous play-offs, made no such mistake from eight feet when action switched to the 18th to claim the title and first prize of €589,561.
Howell was ranked as high as ninth in the Official World Golf Ranking in June 2006, shortly after winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, but six years later was outside the top 500 after a number of injuries and loss of form.
The 38 year old, who will be back in the OWGR's top 100 on Monday, also revealed that off-course issues had contributed to his slump, but could not be happier that wife Emily is expecting twins in December; the couple already have an 18 month old son, Freddie.
"It's incredible, the sun is shining and the crowd have come out," said Howell, who played in both record nine-point Ryder Cup wins in 2004 and 2006. "I have never played in an Open Championship here but to win a golf tournament as a professional at the Home of Golf is quite amazing and I am really thrilled.
"I was really nervous all week and strangely less nervous today - I can't explain that at all. I stayed calm and smooth under pressure and that was really pleasing.
"It's been a long, long road from the depths of despair. I have had a lot of support from people around me and this is as much for them as it is for me.
"The downs were pretty low and I lost my way in life and on the Tour as well. Off course I was not a happy camper and made some bad decisions around 2008 and took some time to sort through them. I owe Emily a debt of gratitude for having me back and showing me that we were always going to be a happy couple in the end.
"This is a sweet moment to be happy and settled with Emily and Freddie at home and the twins on the way and to win a massive championship seals the deal. Hopefully it can spur me onto bigger and better things."
Uihlein began the day with a two-shot lead but a combination of a three-putt bogey at the first and a blistering start from France's Thomas Levet saw that instantly wiped out.
Levet briefly led by two shots when he opened with five straight birdies and also picked up a shot on the seventh, but faded over the closing stretch and saw his hopes ended by driving out of bounds on the 14th. He did have the consolation of winning the pro-am competition.
Howell also took advantage of the downwind front nine to pick up five birdies but it was Ireland's Shane Lowry who stormed into the lead with a run of birdie-eagle-birdie around the turn.
Dropped shots at the 13th and 15th proved costly for Lowry, however, and after a superb approach to the 15th gave Howell a birdie to catch Uihlein on 23 under, neither player was able to find a decisive birdie on the closing stretch.
Lowry and England's Tom Lewis finished a shot outside the play-off, Lewis charging through the field with a 64 and Lowry eventually carding a closing 68.
"It was obviously a great week for me," Lowry said. "I fell one short but you can't really beat yourself up about that. I didn't hit a great chip shot on ten, just hit the flag and went in.
"When you do stuff like that you start to think maybe it's going to be my day. But the holes coming in were playing tough and a sloppy bogey on 15 was the costly one I think. But I can't complain really. If I keep doing what I'm doing, I can't see a win being round the corner."
Lewis began the week 155th on The Race to Dubai with only the top 110 in three weeks' time keeping their card for next season, but the share of third place lifted the 22 year old to 90th.
"It's a great week and my best of the year so hopefully I can go forward from here," said Lewis, who was the leading amateur in The Open Championship in 2011 and then won the Portugal Masters in his third event as a professional.
"I have had spells of playing well but something in my game let me down. This week it all came together and links golf suits me."