On a braw St Andrews night, however, the Englishman finally completed his long trek back from the depths of despair.
At the end of a day of twists and turns in the cradle of the game, Howell won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at the second play-off hole after he and American Peter Uihlein had both finished locked on 23-under aggregates of 265 - a record low for the event.
Given his past record in sudden-death shoot-outs, the omens did not look good for Howell. He had been in four previous play-offs and had lost every one.
It all changed yesterday, though, and a eight-footer for a birdie three on the 18th green gave the 38-year-old his fifth European Tour title and a first since he won the circuit's flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, in 2006.
In that time, of course, Howell has plumbed the kind of depths that you would usually need a bathysphere to reach. Personal problems and back injuries led to a loss of form and an erosion of confidence.
In June 2006, the Ryder Cup campaigner was ninth in the world rankings. By September 2010 he was muddling on down in 569th. From the wilderness to the winners' circle, it has been quite a trudge along the road to recovery.
"I lost my way in life and on the golf course," reflected Howell, who staved off the challenge of Tiger Woods to win the HSBC Champions event in 2005. "I don't want to go into too much detail but I wasn't a happy camper. I made some poor decisions and took a while to sort them out. I owe Emily [now his wife] a debt of gratitude for taking me back and showing me the light, shall we say. We were always going to be a happy couple in the end; a great off-course story. I owe a lot of people many thanks.
"Golf can be an unusual sport and the key to it is being in it for the long haul and finding a way to keep the desire and still want it. If you can't do that, then you've got no chance. As long as you have that desire, there's always a carrot dangling."
Howell, who picked up a first prize of £495,153 to hoist himself up to 12th in the Race to Dubai, had confessed to being nervous all week. Watching his playing partner in the pro-am format, the actor Hugh Grant, replicate his big-screen persona of a bumbling Englishman by duffing a couple here and there, probably helped ease the tension.
It was going to be a tense afternoon, after all. With a dipping temperature and enough of a breeze to finally cause some mischief after three days of benign conditions, the title was well and truly up for grabs for those at the sharp end of a congested leaderboard.
Uihlein, aiming for his second tour triumph of a fine rookie season, had led by two shots from a posse of players, including Howell, heading into the concluding 18 holes but a bogey on his very first hole was hardly the ideal start.
By that point, it was Frenchman Thomas Levet who was making some serious inroads - and five birdies on the trot, and six over his first seven holes, propelled him from four shots back into a three-shot lead at one stage.
It was all happening. Tom Lewis, the young Englishman in desperate need of a good finish to hold on to his tour card, got in on the act with four birdies and an eagle in his opening seven holes to vault into contention, while the burly Irishman Shane Lowry barged into proceedings around the turn.
The two-time tour winner upped the ante by chipping in from a tight lie from the side of the 10th green for an eagle two to move to the front on 23 under until his charge was halted with a brace of bogeys at 13 and 15 en route to a 68 and a 22-under 266.
Levet's rampaging run shuddered to a standstill with a crippling double bogey on the 14th and he dropped out of the reckoning with a 69 for 269 while Lewis set the initial clubhouse target, which Lowry later matched, with a superb eight-under 64. His eventual share of third hoisted him to 90th on the money list and all but safeguarded his tour status.
Howell, who had gone on the offensive with five birdies in his first seven holes, was right in the thick of it and Uihlein had recovered from his early mishap with a bag of four birdies.
With Howell already in with a 23-under total after a 67, the 24-year-old American had a last chance on the 72nd hole to steal the win but his 15-footer for a birdie did not drop and his 69 put him into the play-off.
Both combatants had birdie chances when they played the first but it was Howell who struck the decisive blow when they again came down the 18th. Uihlein's birdie attempt reared up inches short and Howell trundled in his own putt for a title-winning three.
"I'm hoping this is going to be huge for me in many ways," added Howell, who acknowledged the turnaround in fortunes made this season by his old Ryder Cup partner Henrik Stenson. "Henrik is better than ever, so why can't the next 10 years be the best of my career?"