DAVID Howell admits it is a case of baby steps on his return to competitive golf as he tees it up at the Italian Open today.

The Swindon ace suffered a disappointing end to last weekend’s Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland when a final round 82 ended his tournament after three rounds at 14 over par.

The tournament was the first after a two-month absence from the sport for Howell, who had been struggling with a back injury.

A promising start could have seen him finish two under-par if he hadn’t picked up a two-shot penalty on the last hole of the opening day at St Andrews.

The second day saw the 42-year-old lose his momentum further before he carded a 10-over round of 82 on the third day of the competition, which turned out to be his last.

Howell, who has been struggling with injury and a lack of form this season, said: “(The) goal for the week was to play six days in a row with no back trouble. Result, six days golf no back trouble, job done then.

“I came to St Andrews, the home of golf, with no expectations, adamant my golf would not affect my mood, accepting of anything the game threw at me, just grateful to be back on the course once again, doing what I know best.

“Two months is not an eternity, but when I press my tee into the ground it feels like it might as well be.”

While the two-time Ryder Cup winner says he is happy to have been back out playing, he admits that after watching some of the tournament leaders, he recognises a lot of improvements need to be made if he is to compete at the right end of the leaderboard in future events.

“Watching some of the weekend’s play from Tyrell Hatton and Ross Fisher, it’s clear I have more than a little way to go to start competing properly again, but last week was my first stride on that journey, my body held up OK,” he added.

“I felt the buzz of playing nicely if only for nine holes and I also got a reminder that playing poorly on tour is still no fun at all, so the only way forward is to take the next step in the right direction this week.

“Maybe the golfing gods are saving up for me this week in Italy.”

Howell was teeing up alongside France’s Gregory Havret and Scotland’s Marc Warren at Parco Reale di Monza this morning, with fellow Wiltshire ace Jordan Smith alongside 2018 European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn and former US Open winner Graeme McDowell.