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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 06:16 GMT 07:16 UK
Howell plots mastery of Augusta
By Rob Hodgetts

David Howell
World number 13 Howell leads Europe's Order of Merit
England's David Howell believes the Masters is his most likely source of a major victory after finishing 11th on his debut last year.

Howell, 30, returns as European rankings leader and world number 13 and could represent Britain's best chance of a first major winner since 1999.

"In 10 years' time I possibly will have had more chances in the Masters than the other majors," he told BBC Sport.

"I was comfortable on the course and enjoyed the challenge of it."

I'm a better player than last year so there's no reason why I can't have a good week
David Howell

Twelve months ago, the Swindon star even shared the overnight lead with countryman Luke Donald and eventual runner-up Chris DiMarco after rain halted play on the second day.

Howell's campaign was dented by a third-round 76 in the company of winner Tiger Woods, who shot 65, before he rallied with a closing 69 to finish inside the top 16 and secure a return visit.

David Howell (left) and Tiger Woods
Howell shot 76 to Woods' 65 in the third round at Augusta last year

"It was a privilege to be there after 20 years of watching it on the telly so getting invited back was a fantastic performance and I was quite pleased with myself," said Howell.

"An awful lot of Augusta is about putting and around the greens, which is traditionally the stronger part of my game.

"It's also not particularly narrow and there's not the thick rough, which I don't seem to have the knack for, which makes a US Open difficult.

"The USPGA is a fair major so over time I might be able to play well in that but so far my record at the Open has been absolutely dreadful. I don't really know why. It's frustrating.

"But I'm a better player than last year so all things considered there's no reason why I can't have a good week at Augusta. I go in with good confidence."

David Howell
Howell held off Tiger Woods to win the HSBC Champions event

This year, Augusta officials have lengthened the course by 155 yards to try to nullify the advantage of the big hitters, making it the second longest course in major championship history at 7,445 yards.

But Howell rejects the theory that the added yardage merely works in favour of four-time champion Woods.

"Everything plays into Tiger's hands because he's the best player," said Howell.

"But Augusta made changes last year and one of the shorter hitters, Chris DiMarco, lost in a play-off, so it just goes to show, if you play well, you can get round."

I've certainly got room to improve but I think my 30s are going to be my best years
David Howell

Howell's rise through the golfing ranks has been steady, rather than meteoric, but his career has gathered pace since his 2004 Ryder Cup breakthrough.

Last June he lost back-to-back play-offs but won the BMW International Open in August and had eight other top 10s in Europe.

Despite missing 10 weeks through injury he ended the season a career-high seventh on the Order of Merit and Europe's second highest-ranked player at 13th in the world.

The new-found confidence provided the foundations for his biggest victory to date - a final-round tussle with Woods to win the HSBC Champions Tournament in China in November.

For the improvement, he credits the help of coach Clive Tucker and the rest of Team Howell ("I can't believe I've got one of those," he admitted), which includes a chiropractor and fitness guru.

"I felt I didn't work hard in my younger years on tour and four years ago I made some decisions about how to do better," he said.

Next step for me is to put myself in a good position with a round to go in a major and see how I cope
David Howell

"I've gone about things very professionally and given it my all and I'm starting to see the results.

"I've certainly got room to improve - consistency with my long irons is still a weakness - but I think my 30s are going to be my best years.

"Next step for me is to put myself in a good position with a round to go in a major and see how I cope."

Before then, Howell would gladly take victory in the traditional par-three event on Wednesday at Augusta, despite the legend that no winner has ever clinched the Masters in the same year.

"I won't be chucking it in because of the record," he said. "I'll go out and try to play as well as I can and deal with the consequences if I win it."


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