FORMER champion David Howell is relishing the prospect of playing competitively on the best Dubai Desert Classic course he can remember.
The Swindonian, who secured his first European Tour win at the event when it was held at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club in 1999, says the current venue is in superb shape.
A wealth of top stars including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy will tee off at Emirates Golf Club this morning on a course that according to Howell, is in full bloom.
“It’s a really strong field this week and the course is in sensational condition,” said Howell.
“It’s called the Classic and that’s definitely an appropriate name as the course is in the best condition I’ve ever seen it.
“A lot of work went in a couple of years ago to change things around, things like the shapes of the greens and the areas around them, and these changes are coming to the fore now.
“The greens are as quick as I can remember, so you can hole a lot of putts on them.
“They have moved a lot of the heavy rough away from the greens and it feels a little bit less daunting in some ways.
“I expect scoring to be good, especially if there’s no wind. That being said, if the greens become firmer then that could hold the scoring at bay, but I expect it to be normal scoring at least.”
Howell, who resides in Dubai during the winter, comes into this year’s tournament - the 25th edition - off the back of a rare missed cut at the Qatar Masters.
But the 38-year-old Broome Manor pro is confident that problems that troubled his game last week have been ironed out following advice from coach Jonathan Wallet.
“I’m playing nicely at the moment and I seem to be driving the ball a bit better than I was,” said Howell.
“I took a bit of advice on board from my coach and that seems to be working quite nicely in the three or four rounds I’ve played this week, so that’s really promising.
“Other departments of my game have been pretty good of late so it’s looking a bit more positive.
“It’s such a rarity to miss the cut and it was frustrating but that’s part of golf that you are going to miss the cut sometimes.
“There’s a bunch of good players on the tour and if you’re not on your game then you’re going to miss out.”
Howell tees off at 11.45am GMT this morning (7.45am local time) alongside double major winner Mark O’Meara and Mikko Ilonen.
“It’s amazing when I think about it now how early the Dubai win came in my pro career,” continued Howell.
“They are great memories but distant memories, although it’s always nice to be announced on the first tee as a former winner.”