Two of them produced their best-ever efforts at Major championships, one showed glimpses of a return to form and the other suffered an injury on his way to a disastrous final round of 82. It was something of a rollercoaster day for four Englishmen competing on the final day of the 88th USPGA Championship at Medinah in Illinois.
While world number one Tiger Woods was busy clinching his 12th Major title, European number one David Howell was recovering in the physio room from injury and a serious dent to his pride. Howell shot a morale-sapping 82 in the final round, falling from -1 to nine-over-par in the space of eighteen holes.
European Ryder Cup skipper Ian Woosnam must have been looking on with much concern, but his disappointment in his number one player’s form was subsequently overshadowed by a more pressing concern over Howell’s fitness after the 31 year-old from Swindon revealed the reason for his poor showing – a potentially Ryder Cup threatening shoulder injury.
Howell, who has had a number of injury problems in the last two seasons, felt a twinge in his shoulder when warming up for the final round on Sunday. Woosnam will be hoping that his decision to play on will not prove a costly one to his team’s hopes of retaining the Ryder Cup next month. Despite the pain, Howell has insisted that he will play in next week’s World Golf Championship in Ohio because he needs to play in his fifteenth US Tour event of the season in order to keep his card. Woosnam will be holding his breath.
“I felt my shoulder during my last few shots on the practice range,” the world number ten said yesterday.
“I don’t like to blame an injury for a bad round, but with five holes to go I thought about withdrawing. I’ll go and get treatment but I need to at least start the event next week because I need to get in my fifteen starts on the US Tour.”
Meanwhile, despite his final round disappointment, England’s Luke Donald will feel proud to have finished in a tie for third place at Medinah and his improved form should mean one less headache for Woosnam. Prior to the tournament Donald was in the precarious position of being in the last qualifying berth on the European World Points List for the Ryder Cup, but his excellent week has been rewarded with the news that the points earned in his adopted home state should ensure that Woosnam does not need to resort to picking him as a wildcard.
On the subject of wildcards, two other Englishmen who played in the last Ryder Cup enjoyed decent weeks at the season’s final Major, sparking hopes from both that they have forced themseleves into the reckoning for Woosnam’s picks. Lee Westwood has struggled since starring in the 2004 Ryder Cup, but he birdied two of the last three holes on Sunday at Medinah to finish in a tie for 29th place. His form, though not as spectacular as in the late 1990s or early 2000s, has improved in the last three months and this – combined with his excellent Ryder Cup record – may ensure that he is picked by the captain.
Another player whose form has slumped in the last two years is the flambuoyant Ian Poulter. He was also a member of the victorious 2004 team, but has also struggled since. Poulter carded a final round of 71 to finish in a tie for ninth place at the USPGA, his best finish ever at a Major championship. Should he post top five finishes in the final two qualifying events he may yet move into an automatic berth for the Ryder Cup. It is more likely, however, that he will be battling Westwood, Darren Clarke, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Tomas Bjorn for one of Woosnam’s two wildcard picks, due to be announced on September 3rd.