David Howell equals course record to shoot up 46 places at Hong Kong Open
Veteran Englishman has been struggling with a foot problem but it didn’t seem to hamper him as he shot 63 early on day three
They call Saturday moving day in golf and nobody exemplified that more that David Howell on day three of the UBS Hong Kong Open.
The 41-year-old has had a difficult season, troubled by a persistent problem with one of his feet and finishing in a lowly 110th place on the Race to Dubai; a third-place finish at the Czech Masters in August was the only highlight.
But after scraping into the weekend in a tie for last after two level-par opening rounds, the Englishman shot up 44 places into joint fifth, four shots off the lead on seven under par, by equalling the course record 63 on Saturday morning.
Watch: Roundup of Day Three at the 2016 UBS Hong Kong Open
Little wonder he was sticking to his post-round warmdown of a cheeky cigarette and a couple of beers. A rather depressing 2016 could be lifted just in time for Christmas with a timely top-five or top-10 finish if he can put together another decent round on Sunday.
“It’s been a long time to be honest with you [since I had a round like that]. I think I must have had a fairly low one in the Czech Republic. This whole calendar year has been a real struggle for me with injury,” said Howell, who had seven birdies and an eagle on the par-four 10th when he drove the green.
Remarkably, his foot was still giving him serious grief, though you wouldn’t have known it from watching him.
“I’ve got some new orthotic insoles to try and ease my strain through that area of the foot, but I don’t think I’ve got those quite right yet. That as much as anything was a bit of a trial this week to see how the foot was. It’s not right by a long way, but hopefully we can find a solution by the time January comes around.
“It was terrible yesterday the back nine. But it’s not affecting me hitting the ball. I can get around. I’ve been playing golf at home but nothing down there is right. I ended up thinking, well, if I can play two or three rounds of golf at home, I may as well come out and give it a go on Tour. Glad I did.”
Howell’s glory days were a decade ago, when he beat Tiger Woods to win the HSBC Champions in 2005 and won England’s flagship the BMW PGA Championship.
Since then it’s been something of an up-and-down struggle for form and fitness, but now there’s a prospect of nice Christmas bonus.
“I’ve given myself a nice chance at a top-10, top-five finish if I play equally well tomorrow,” he said.
“I’ve been out here 21 – this is my 22nd season just started. Plenty of experience in the tank but you still want to get off to a good start [to the season] and get some points on the board and give myself an opportunity to do it. Makes Christmas all the more enjoyable if you can do that.”
Howell three-putted on seven from three feet after birdies on the first and third and admitted he feared his round might fall apart. But he played the next six holes in six under par, with birdies on the next two, including holing out from a bunker on nine, that eagle on 10, and two more birdies on 12 and 13. After dropping another on 15, a superb iron to eight feet on the last set him up for a final birdie and the course record.
“I played really nicely on Thursday and could have shot 65, 64, it just didn’t happen. Made a couple of mental errors and didn’t hole a thing and ended up shooting level.
“Yesterday was a real struggle. Mentally I was brilliant and really battled; same score. Played completely different golf for two days but ended up with the same score.
“Today obviously I played well, thought well and I put it all together. Things rolled my way a little bit today, and you need it when you’re going to shoot 63.”
On a perfect, beautiful day for scoring, Howell wasn’t the only player on the move early on.
Edoardo Molinari tore up the back nine with six birdies in eight holes and also looked set for 63 but agonisingly bogied the last. He rocketed up 41 places, as did Lee Soonmin, who had a back nine of 30 in his 64. Both were joint eighth on six under.