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Howard, Muirhead capture Players' Championship titles

The Canadian Press

4/21/2013 6:37:32 PM

TORONTO -- Glenn Howard capped the curling season in style Sunday by hitting a clutch double takeout with his final shot to win the Players' Championship at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.

He also let the stacked field know that he just might be the skip to beat at the Olympic trials later this year.

Howard, from Coldwater, Ont., scored two in the final end for a 4-3 victory over Winnipeg's Mike McEwen in the final Grand Slam event of the season. Howard won all seven of his games against a field that included top domestic and international competition.

"We're as good as anybody right now," Howard said. "I can't wait to get out to those trials in December and see if we can let the old guys keep playing."

The 50-year-old skip and teammates Wayne Middaugh, Brent Laing and Craig Savill have been strong again this season after an excellent 2012 campaign. Howard won the Tim Hortons Brier last year and followed it up with his fourth world title.

He owns top spot on the World Curling Tour's Order of Merit and took the bronze at the recent national playdowns. Winning the last Grand Slam event on his final shot was a nice way to head into the summer.

"This is a big event, this is 15 of the best teams in the world and we just won it," Howard said. "So it doesn't get any better. This is harder to win than the Brier, this is harder to win than the worlds as far as I'm concerned because you've got all the best teams here.

"So to win it, you're pumped."

Howard and McEwen both seemed content to chip away throughout the game with neither skip able to generate much offence. McEwen was light with his final throw in the last end, giving Howard the chance to go for two instead of a single that would have forced an extra end.

"Only one team gets to win their last game and that happens to be us this year," Laing said. "So yeah, it's awesome."

Earlier, Scotland's Eve Muirhead defeated Margaretha Sigfridsson 8-5 in the women's final for her first career Grand Slam title. The win came just a few weeks after Muirhead beat the Swedish skip in the gold-medal game at the world championship in Latvia.

"We knew we had to be sharp against the Swedish girls," Muirhead said. "We always have huge battles against them and we have a pretty high success rate against them in a final.

"To get another one is great."

In the men's final, McEwen opened the scoring with a single in the first end. Howard had a chance for a double takeout for two in the third end but settled for one to pull even.

McEwen had the hammer for the first time in the fourth end but couldn't clear out both stones in the four-foot ring, allowing Howard to steal one for the lead.

After a blank end in the fifth, McEwen hit a tap for one to tie it. Howard had final throw in the seventh end but hit a guard to give McEwen a steal of one and a 3-2 lead.

Howard reached the final with a 6-3 victory over 2013 Tim Hortons Brier champion Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. McEwen advanced with a 5-2 win over Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg.

The tournament also finalized several berths for the Olympic trials -- the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings -- this December.

Three spots in both men's and women's draws were finalized before the Players' Championship. Howard, Stoughton and Kevin Martin had already locked up their berths for the men's tournament.

Additional spots -- three for the men and three for the women -- were determined from the Canadian Team Ranking System standings.

McEwen, Kevin Koe and John Epping were the latest men's skips to earn berths. Epping earned his entry when Jacobs lost in the semifinal.

For the women's draw, Jennifer Jones, Heather Nedohin and Stefanie Lawton already had spots. Rachel Homan, Sherry Middaugh and Chelsea Carey will now join them in Winnipeg.

The winning teams at the Olympic trials will represent Canada at the 2014 Sochi Games.

Howard has never represented Canada at an Olympic Games. Martin won gold at the Vancouver Games in 2010, beating Howard in the 2009 trials in Edmonton to qualify.

Notes: Howard's team earned $76,000 ($26,000 purse share plus $50,000 bonus) for the victory, while Muirhead's team earned $35,500 ($23,000 purse share plus $12,500 bonus). Muirhead's rink became the first European team to ever win a Grand Slam event. ... McEwen won $45,500 ($15,500 purse and $30,000 bonus) and Sigfridsson earned $20,500 ($15,500 purse and $5,000 bonus) ... It was Howard's second Grand Slam win of the season. He also took the Canadian Open in Kelowna, B.C. ... The remaining berths for the Olympic trials -- two for the men and two for the women -- will be finalized at a pre-trials event in Kitchener, Ont., in November. ... Team McEwen second Matt Wozniak wore a Toronto Blue Jays hat for the final. ... Attendance figures weren't immediately released. A few hundred fans were on hand in the morning and the 2,800-seat venue appeared about one-quarter full for the men's final in the afternoon. ... Howard lost to Epping in the 2012 final at Summerside, P.E.I. ... Lawton defeated Cathy Overton-Clapham in last year's women's final.