Howell, Westwood return to form as Ryder Cup looms

David Howell birdied his 16th and 17th holes and eagled the last to break out of a three-month slump with a 5-under 67 Thursday and a share the lead at the BMW International Open.

Howell is tied for the lead with Gary Evans, Martin Erlandsson and Garry Houston and has had timed his return to form with the Ryder Cup coming in three weeks.

The Englishman is a definite starter for Europe in the Sept. 22-24 Ryder Cup at The K Club in Ireland, while Lee Westwood moved closer to selection despite illness to shoot a 4-under 68.

Howell was one of the architects of Europe's record Ryder Cup win in 2004. His 6-iron to seven feet in fourballs with Paul Casey at Oakland Hills set up a victory which was seen as crucial to Europe's triumph.

He has been in a slump since winning the BMW Championship at Wentworth in May, but on Thursday he played steadily to be 1-under through 15 holes before his strong finish. It was capped by a 264-yard 3-wood onto the green at the 557-yard ninth and an 8-foot putt for eagle.

"I can't remember the last eagle I made. But I hit two of the purest shots I've hit for a long time and managed to hole the putt as well," Howell said. "I hit a lot of nice shots I was pleased with."

Westwood made a last minute decision to play despite an infection picked up in the United States last week that forced him out of the Bridgestone Invitational.

"Tonsillitis is the closest we have come to a diagnosis," Westwood said, adding that he may consider not playing so much on the U.S. Tour next year. "I've been getting tonsillitis twice a year."

Westwood has played on the last four European Ryder Cup teams but will require a captain's pick from Ian Woosnam to play at The K Club. He cannot force his way into the top 10 in the qualifying standings.

He is believed to be high on Woosnam's list for consideration when the announcement is made Sunday.

Luke Donald, the leader in Europe's Ryder Cup qualifying standings, was another player level with Westwood. Colin Montgomerie, Paul Casey and Padraig Harrington, all sure of team places, all shot 70.

But Paul McGinley, who is fighting to keep his place in the top 10, could only manage a 75, including a seven on the par-5 sixth.

His position may turn out to be safe because the players who could dislodge him from the top 10 did not do well, the AP says.

Thomas Bjorn (71) and Ian Poulter (76) are also hoping for a captain's pick.