PAUL Howard is hoping he can go one better at the Swiss Challenge presented by ASG after coming close to a maiden European Challenge Tour victory at Golf Sempachersee last year.
The Southport & Ainsdale attached start shared the 54-hole lead with Germany’s Alexander Knappe in 2016, and the two could not be separated until the 17th hole in Lucerne – which Knappe birdied while Howard made par.
That joint runner-up finish, the best of Howard’s career to date, was, however, a positive result for the 26 year old, who is glad to be back at a course where he knows he can perform.
“I’d like to think to think the course here suits me,” he said. “I didn’t play well last week at all, but I did well in La Cala which is similar to here because you have to be good off the tee.
“The first year I played here I missed the cut by a shot and felt that I played really well. As the courses go on this season I feel this is one in particular that suits me, so I hope that I can go one better than last year.
“I actually thought I had a one-shot lead with three holes to play. If I had known how I was doing at the time I probably would have played hole 17 slightly differently given we were level.
“I do feel that coming so close motivates me. It is nice to come back to a course you know well, and that performance did show me that I can do it – having a good result shows that you’re not far away.
“There’s less thick rough on certain holes this year. Most notably on the third which is a par five. I would normally never consider hitting a driver up there, but it seems to have opened it up quite a bit.
“On the whole it seems a little bit tamer than last year and the ball is going further as you’re getting a lot more run on the fairways. The condition of the course is great – the greens are still very good like they were last year.
“It is such a big difference this week as there is a lot more rough and I imagine the course here is very similar to those that they play on the European Tour.”
After coming so close in Switzerland, Howard endured a mixed campaign in 2016, where narrowly missing out on a Challenge Tour card was offset by the fact that he qualified for The Open Championship at Royal Troon.
“It was great to play in The Open,” he said. “But in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t a very good year.
“I missed out on the top 70 and my Challenge Tour card by a couple of hundred points, and I missed two events to play in The Open – which, don’t get me wrong, was a fantastic experience, but I did feel unlucky.
“The Open was brilliant though. I played a practice round with Ernie Els and Joost Luiten, then I was drawn with Colt Knost and Daniel Summerhays.
“To play with Knost and Summerhays and to realise that their games weren’t too different from mine is a big motivator to keep going.
“My main goal this season is to win an event. If I win an event then I can play comfortably on the Challenge Tour for the rest of the season.
“I’d like to keep my Challenge Tour card first, then win and make the European Tour – I don’t feel that I’m too far away.”