Howell stakes early claim in Ohio

European Tour number one David Howell has already made his presence felt on his return to the American circuit.

European Tour number one David Howell has already made his presence felt on his return to the American circuit.

Four days after winning the BMW Championship at Wentworth and climbing into the world’s top 10 for the first time, Howell started the Memorial tournament at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio with a three-under-par 69.

It put him joint fourth, three behind left-hander Steve Flesch who was on the final hole when play was suspended for the day because of an approaching thunderstorm.

Howell began with a birdie and after bogeys at the fourth and fifth came back with further birdies on the next two holes and then picked up more shots on the 12th and 13th.

In the group alongside him were Masters champion Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Swede Carl Pettersson and former world number one Nick Price – no fan of Jack Nicklaus’s experiment to put deep furrows in the bunkers.

“I don’t like it at all,” Price said. “It’s a bit of pot luck, to be honest. You can get in there and have a perfect lie when it lands on top of a groove, then you can have another one that goes in the trough, and you’ve got no chance.”

There was no point asking Flesch his opinion because he never visited the sand, but Mickelson was unperturbed despite going in bunkers on the last two holes and bogeying them both.

“Everybody has to play it,” he said. “These bunkers are just a different variety than we’re used to.

“I don’t really care. I like a variety. I like a variety of things on tour. I like that we have courses that are short and tight and don’t require a driver and I like that we have courses like Augusta that are long and more open.

“I like that we have fast greens and slow greens and flat greens and hilly greens with a lot of pitch.”

An eagle and three birdies had put Mickelson five-under with two to play, while Davis Love was heading for a 67 as well until he double-bogeyed the last, driving into sand and then three-putting.

Flesch was only two-under after 10 holes, but then birdied four of the next six holes to nose in front of fellow American Sean O’Hair, who led in the clubhouse on 67.

Garcia, seeking his first victory of the year, was two-over after four, but battled all the way to four-under before failing to get and down from a greenside bunker at the 17th.

Paul Casey and Greg Owen returned two-under 70s, while late starter Ian Poulter was level par with four to play when the suspension came. Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Jose Maria Olazabal managed only 74s and Justin Rose did not produce a single birdie in his 75.

It was another eventful day in the life of John Daly. Seven-over with four to play, he birdied three of them, but on the 17th had a quadruple bogey eight and so finished with an 80.

He was in joint last place.

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