Ryder Cup hopeful David Howell picked up where he left off when the BMW International Open – the final qualifying event for Europe’s side – resumed in Munich today.
Eighth in the race for the 10 automatic places, Howell was precariously placed when he stood three over par after 17 holes of his first round yesterday.
But the Swindon golfer finished with a 15-foot eagle putt and this morning birdied two of his first three holes to improve to one under.
First he made a 12-footer on the 555-yard 11th, then he converted a 25-foot chance on the short 12th. With the halfway cut likeliest to fall at level par, they were vital indeed.
With Paul Casey virtually home and dry in seventh spot Howell, Ian Poulter and Paul McGinley are the three most under the microscope this week as they try to earn themselves a cup debut in Detroit next month.
Poulter was able only to match Howell’s 73 yesterday, while McGinley, match-winning hero from The Belfry two years ago, produced a two-under 70.
Of the six players able to bump them off the team Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin did best with a four-under 68, good enough for a share of sixth place. But he needed to be runner-up even to catch McGinley’s present total of points – and the Dubliner, of course, was hoping to take himself out of reach.
Leader of the tournament was South Africa’s US Open champion Retief Goosen, who returned with a 66 after a month recovering from a pelvic injury suffered jet-skiing in Barbados.
One behind were Colin Montgomerie, 2001 winner John Daly, Peter O’Malley and David Lynn.
Daly was the first of those back into action. He opened with a bogey five, but got back to five under with the expected birdie at the long 11th.
Montgomerie, of course, is out to clinch a Ryder Cup wildcard and his chances, already good, were boosted further by his 67. He was among today’s later starters.
Playing partner Luke Donald is favourite to be Langer’s other pick and a 68 did him no harm at all, but it was matched later in the day by in-form Alex Cejka and the German took the opportunity this morning to make his presence felt even more.
He two-putted the 11th and when he birdied the 13th he moved alongside Goosen. If he won on Sunday it would make Langer’s decision a really tough one – but he probably had to win.
The other possible wildcard was thought to be Swede Fredrik Jacobson and he birdied the 11th as well to improve to two under.
Cejka bogeyed the 14th, but a third birdie of the day on the next returned him to the joint lead - not only with Goosen, but also Daly and Lynn, both of whom had two early birdies.
Jacquelin was keeping things interesting in the Ryder Cup race as well, his birdie at the 11th leaving him only a shot off the pace. Howell, meanwhile, remained one under after seven holes.