Open 2016: David Howell recalls topping Royal Troon leaderboard

By Ged ScottBBC Sport at Royal Troon
David Howell
David Howell tees off his first round at The Open on Thursday morning at 11:58 BST
Venue: Royal Troon Dates: 14 April to 17 July
Coverage: Highlights on BBC TV, listen live on BBC Radio 5 live and follow live text on the BBC Sport website.

David Howell has never forgotten his first Open Championship.

Royal Troon, 1997. He teed off first, racked up five birdies, went top of the leaderboard early on the first morning, but then fell away to miss the cut.

Yet the fact that he missed it by just one shot, and on the same mark as the late, great Seve Ballesteros too, brings no more than a phlegmatic grin from the still highly popular, now Surrey-based golfer and father of three.

"My first Open. First group, first day," he recalled. "I played with Angel Cabrera and Shaun Webster. I played well and had five birdies in the first nine holes.

"The back nine got me but I still had that rookie moment: 'Take a pic of me now, I'm top of the Open leaderboard'.

"I can't actually remember too much of the course though, other than it was obviously a classic links test.

"Typical downwind on way out, plenty of chances, then you turn into the teeth of the wind and try to hold on coming home. That's the prevailing wind."

Howell on comeback from injury-hit year

Swindon-born Howell's career was badly hampered by a back injury just when he was in his prime a decade ago, briefly hitting the top of the European Order of Merit.

And he has suffered again this season, missing almost three months between February and May with a foot injury.

"I've had a poor season coming back from injury," he told BBC Sport. "And coming back has been slow progress. A stop-start season."

But his tie for 45th at Castle Stuart in the Scottish Open brought some encouraging form - and his best pay cheque of the season.

"Of course you want to go into an Open feeling great but I've done that many times and played poorly," he said.

"And, although you'd like to feel confident going into an Open, they almost feel like stand-alone tournaments.

"Castle Stuart was a really nice cut for me to make. And, although I've no real positive momentum to build off, that being said, I'm playing quite nicely."

Howell's past Open experiences

Howell's best finish at an Open was his tie for seventh at Royal Birkdale in 2008.

He also performed creditably at Royal Liverpool in 2014, when he finished joint 15th.

But most golf journalists would say his best effort in an Open week came when he was handed the honour of being invited to address the annual Association of Golf Writers dinner on the Tuesday before the 2009 Open at Turnberry, and brought the house down with a hilarious speech.

No surprise he is so well media trained though. His wife Emily used to work for the European Tour as a press officer.

Howell will commence his 14th Open on Thursday in the company of Korean Seung Yul Noh and American Tony Finau at 11:58 BST - but he has a lot less friendly start time on Friday, second out at 06:46 BST.

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