Almost a year to the day that he was lying a shot off the lead at the Masters, David Howell goes into tomorrow’s Portuguese Open at Oitavos ranked 237th in the world – and with a new coach.
Howell, who like Ryder Cup teammates Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie and Paul McGinley has failed to qualify for Augusta next week, has made what he calls a “massive decision”.
After six years with Clive Tucker during which he earned two Ryder Cup caps, beat Tiger Woods head to head, had a runaway win at the European Tour’s flagship event and burst into the world’s top 10, the 32-year-old from Swindon felt he had to take action to halt his decline.
“It wasn’t an easy thing to do,” Howell said. “We’re close friends and in fairness to Clive, he half-suggested that I should get another opinion.
“Although physically I’m great at the moment – as good as I have been for a number of years – the injuries I suffered last year took a toll so that Clive was worried to ask me to do things because of how they might affect my body.
“I got to the point where I thought I had to do something different. I’m working with Jamie Gough now and somebody without those fears will possibly have a simpler job. They can see me as a blank canvas.
“I’m not necessarily expecting things to click this week, but I definitely see light at the end of the tunnel. A fresh approach has opened my eyes to what I might achieve.
“I’m far from confident I’m going to make the Ryder Cup again – I’m no use to anybody as I am – but there’s a summer of golf to make it and I’m always hopeful that I’m going to find some form. I’ll be putting my foot to the floor trying.
“Watching the Masters next week won’t be easy, but there are plenty of players in my position. Nobody has a divine right to be there.
“The rot set in at the end of 2006. I didn’t play well and had a shoulder problem. Then last year I didn't start well, but was still high on confidence for a while.”
It was during that period that he managed an opening 70 in The Masters to be one behind Justin Rose and Brett Wetterich. But the following three rounds were 75, 82 and 77 and he finished only 44th.
Back trouble came next, then a wrist injury on the eve of the US Open and on his return he missed eight out of 13 cuts for the rest of the year, with a best finish of 45th in the others.
“I couldn’t hit more than 40 shots in practice for a time. That’s just the way it was and for all the treatment I got nobody really foresaw the problem lingering as long as it did,” Howell explained.
“Now I’m working out and practising hard. It feels completely different - touch wood.”
In his second event of this year, Howell was seventh in Qatar, but he has missed the last three cuts in India, Malaysia and then the US Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
That prompted the split from Tucker.
Howell said: “Clive has been instrumental in helping me achieve so many goals over the last few years. He has improved my knowledge of the golf swing immensely and we have shared some great moments.
“However, with the downturn in my form still lingering around, I felt it was the right time to hear some new ideas.
“I’m aware that some people have come out of slumps and some haven’t. I’ve no fear that that is going to happen to me, but I can’t take it for granted.”
Maybe personal happiness can play a part too in Howell’s attempt to climb the rankings again.
He is back with girlfriend Emily, whom he met while she was at the European Tour before she went on to work for the Queen’s private secretary.