Former Ryder Cup team mates David Howell and Lee Westwood have enjoyed wildly contrasting fortunes since they last played together for Europe at The K Club in 2006.
Westwood has twice risen to number one in the world and captured 11 wins in little more than five years as Howell followed his 2006 BMW PGA Championship victory with an injury cursed run of horrific form, slipping from a career high of ninth in the world to 569th two years ago.
Yesterday the tables were turned in the Alstom Open de France with Howell tied for the lead and Westwood 12 strokes behind after a suffering a worrying injury scare with the Open just 11 days away.
The world number three tweaked his right knee and his groin after slipping on wooden sleepers walking to the first tee, eventually carding a 76 at Le Golf National outside Paris.
Ironically, Howell saw his seven-iron approach bounce off wooden sleepers and onto the green at the water-protected 18th, allowing him to two-putt for a 67 and a share of the lead with 4Dane Anders Hansen on six under par.
The pair are one stroke clear of South Africa’s George Coetzee with Germany’s Marcel Siem and Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin a further shot behind on four under after a blustery day marked by a short storm delay in the afternoon.
“It was a good round of golf,” said Howell, who is now 350th in the world. “The worst shot I hit was the seven-iron to the last hole which just got over the water by the skin of its teeth.
“It was pretty nerve wracking coming down the stretch. I played beautifully. It’s been three good rounds so far.”
The leading non-exempt player in the top five after today’s final round will earn a place in the Open, but Howell has his sights set on a dream victory.
“If that came along with a victory or something, then fantastic,” Howell said. “But this is a massive tournament in its own right. Just out there trying to do as well as we can this week.”
Following his slip walking to the first tee, Westwood followed an opening double bogey with five successive bogeys as he consistently blocked the ball.
But the soreness wore off in time and he played the remaining holes in two under to post a 76, which was still his worst score in Europe for more than three years.
“I was talking to Richard Sterne’s caddie and not looking where I was going,” Westwood explained. “I slipped on wooden sleepers down the side of the cart path. My left foot went forward about two feet and my right foot stayed where it was.
“It felt like I strained something at the top of my right leg and tweaked my right knee as well. It seems to have eased off, but I am still a little bit wary of it.
“I felt if it stopped it might make it worse by seizing up, so I thought it was better to keep it moving. I didn’t try to overdo it over the first few holes, but lost everything to the right - I couldn’t put any weight on it. I don’t know what I’ve done to it.”
Westwood said he planned to contact his trainer Steve McGregor for advice on whether to have treatment or just rest the injury, recalling how he ruptured the plantaris muscle in his calf in Paris two years ago and finished up playing just once before that September’s Ryder Cup - the Open at St Andrews, where he was second behind Louis Oosthuizen.
“This tournament has been a curse for me the last few times I’ve played it,” Westwood said with a smile.
Hansen, 41, bogeyed two of his last three holes for a 69 to share top spot with Howell but with just six shots covering the top 21 players on the leaderboard and with poor weather forecast, many of them believe they still have a chance.
French hope Jacquelin (70) and Siem (73) are just two behind with resurgent Swede Henrik Stenson (69) only three strokes off the pace alongside Ian Poulter (69) on three under.
Like Howell, Stenson and Siem will have one eye on the Open Championship exemption. But Poulter is gung ho for his first strokeplay win on European soil since 2006 and keen to see tough weather descend today.
“I want it as tough as possible tomorrow,” Poulter said. “I want the 25 mph wind and I want it to be brutally tough to score so I can go out and do my thing.”
World number 11 Graeme McDowell birdied the last for a 71 and is tied for 13th on one-under with England’s Justin Rose, who signed for a 68.
McDowell’s 20 footer was on its way to the hole as the horn sounded for the weather delay. Watching it find the cup and realising he could leave the course immediately instead of waiting to finish, the Ulsterman fell to his knees and raised his arms to the air in mock triumph at what he described as “a buzzer-beater.”
Shane Lowry carded a disappointing three over 74 to slip seven shots of the pace on one over while Peter Lawrie had five birdies, two bogeys and two double bogeys in a 72 that left him on four over.
Lee Westwood was able to play on in the Alstom Open de France at Le Golf National near Paris today after hurting his right knee and groin before yesterday’s third round.
The World Number Three slipped as he walked to the tee and looked in danger of pulling out after dropping seven shots in his first six holes, but he battled on to a 76 and made a far better start this morning.
Westwood turned in a level-par 36, then birdied the 383-yard tenth to stand five over par. He was down in 40th spot, however, and 10 strokes behind joint overnight leaders David Howell and Anders Hansen, who were yet to tee off.