DAVID Howell is relishing a “battle with the elements” as the European Tour starts its annual links golf swing this morning.

After primarily playing in South Africa, Asia and mainland Europe so far this season, the Irish Open starts a run of tournaments contested on coastal courses in Great Britain.

This week’s event, which is hosted by Rory McIlroy, heads to Portstewart in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, for the first time and Swindon star Howell is eagerly awaiting the challenge ahead.

“Links golf is a very, very different test but it’s one I am looking forward to. I have done well on links courses before so I am capable,” said Howell, who missed the cut at last week’s Open de France in Paris.

“It is probably going to be windy to some degree and it’s certainly a very different challenge to last week but it’s nice to get on a links course again and go and do battle with the elements.

“It’s a new course and it looks like a very impressive links course, very fair and very good.”

Howell’s disappointing showing in France continued his frustrating 2017 season, with the Broome Manor man having made the cut just three times in 14 events this year.

A triple bogey in his first round was particularly costly for the two-time Ryder Cup player as he ultimately failed to qualify for the weekend by three shots.

“I didn’t play well last week, I battled away and hung in there but the triple bogey killed me. If you take that out of the equation, I would have had a strong chance of making the cut,” Howell added.

“We will need to stay away from big numbers this week, I can’t keep making triple bogeys because they don’t help matters.

“I just need my game to be slightly better this week, especially off the tee. That’s one area I will need to perform well in compared to last week as you are going to have to drive it well around here.”

Although still short of his best form, Howell has at least headed to Northern Ireland in much better shape physically.

A fortnight ago, the 42-year-old told the Advertiser he was in the midst of his “toughest period as a professional” after being forced to withdraw from the BMW International in Munich because of injury.

“I’m feeling a little bit better in general. I have had a bit of a health kick for about 10 days now and the back did cope a bit better last week,” said Howell.

“Although it was a disappointing result in France, I felt a bit better, so compared to where I was when I withdrew in Germany, I am in much better shape.”

Howell will be among the first group out on the course this morning at 7.30am alongside Scotland’s Stephen Gallagher and Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin.