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David Howell making a mark on world golf

In equal measure, Britain's David Howell expresses surprise and a strong sense of self-belief after his golfing annus mirabilis in 2005.

Surprise that his breakthrough into the world's top 15 has come so soon but a conviction that he now truly belongs to the game's top tier.

The 30-year-old Englishman, unquestionably the most improved player on the European Tour over the last 12 months, ended 2004 ranked 43rd in the world and has since steadily climbed to a career-high 13th.

A golden run of form that began with his Ryder Cup debut at Oakland Hills last year has included a one-shot triumph at the BMW International Open in August and victory at the expense of world number one Tiger Woods at the Champions tournament in China earlier this month.

"I am surprised at how quickly things have progressed," a smiling Howell told Reuters in an interview at his home in Weybridge, Surrey on Monday.

"It's been a fantastic year, largely the result of a lot of hard work. I'm in a great place at the moment.

"I think I have always been a strong person mentally but not a cocky person and I've never believed I am better than I am.

"My mind has always possibly been one step back from what my performances show I am just to keep me working hard. You can't afford to believe your good press or your bad press.

"I never thought I would get into the top 15, to be honest with you," added the Swindon-born golfer. "But now that I'm here, I actually feel I've got massive room for improvement.

"But I've got a sneaking feeling that my best years are to come. I'm ranked 13 now and, if I'm higher than that every year for the next five years, I'm going to have had a career I never dreamed I would have."

Howell, one of the most likeable and gracious players on the European Tour, attributes his rapid rise up the rankings to big decisions he made about his game four years ago.

Although he has been one of Europe's most consistent golfers since 1998, the ability to close the deal when in contention had frequently proved elusive.

He made his European Tour breakthrough with victory at the 1999 Dubai Desert Classic but then had to wait six years before winning his second title at the BMW International Open in Germany.

Hard work, a return to his former coach Clive Tucker and a stronger emphasis by Howell on fitness have all played a part.

He has also bought a new home in Weybridge, employed a physiotherapist and secured the services of a full-time personal trainer.

"It was the transformation of David Howell the youngster in Swindon to David Howell the really career-minded professional golfer in Surrey," added the Ryder Cup player.

"Now l've got everything that I feel I need in place to help me be as good as I can be."

The formula has certainly worked. Having held off the last-day challenge of twice major champion John Daly to triumph at the BMW International Open, he eclipsed that two weeks ago by resisting the threat of Woods in China.

A four-under-par 68 in the final round at Shanghai's Sheshan International Golf Club earned Howell a third European Tour success by three strokes.

"Beating Tiger was the ultimate," he said. "Not many people have stood up and faced Tiger and beaten him.

"Tiger didn't have the greatest of days but I put him under pressure. In a way, I didn't let him have the greatest of days.

"I performed really well in a massive tournament with a lot on the line. If you can do that, you can't do a lot more.

"Yes, it wasn't a major but it was a pretty damn good performance. There weren't many people in the world that would have done that."

November 29, 2005

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