By Pete Pappas
GolfWRX Staff Writer
You’ve heard it hundreds, if not thousands of times. Ian Poulter is overrated. He doesn’t have enough talent to be considered among the PGA Tour elite. He only shows up for the Ryder Cup.
Well, guess what? Poulter didn’t just show up at Mission Hills Golf Club for the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shenzhen this week. He knocked the competition unconscious with his gutsy, do-or-die Ryder Cup style of play. And in the process Poulter ripped the “Old Tom Morris Cup” away from the world’s best players with a near flawless weekend performance
And oh yeah. To all you Poulter nay-sayers out there? Don’t worry. There’s room on the “Poulter Bandwagon” – even for you.
Poulter’s thrilling victory in China was his second-career Tour win (and second-career WGC win). The “Bodacious Brit” broke through for his first Tour victory back in 2010 when he defeated fellow Englishman Paul Casey at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. But this WGC victory Sunday was different. Not because Poulter put on a ball striking clinic finishing T-1 in greens in regulation. Or because his 21-under final score established the new HSBC Champions tournament record (previously 20-under held by Martin Kaymer in 2011).
It was different because Poulter’s entire season has been different.
The feng shui of Ian Poulter
Poulter started the final round at Shenzhen tied with Ernie Els in fourth place, trailing Phil Mickelson by one stroke, and co-leaders Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen by three strokes.
“After the Ryder Cup I came here in good spirits,” Poulter said. “I knew that if I did the right things this week and stayed patient I’d be right there at the end.”
Poulter’s prophecy of 11th-hour heroics would set the stage for a dramatic finish. Westwood dropped off the lead early with a double-bogey at No. 5, but fought back into contention with birdies at Nos. 6 and 8. Halfway through the final round, Westwood, Oosthuizen, Mickelson, and Poulter all sat atop the congested leaderboard at 19-under. Bogeys at Nos. 12 and 15 however, ultimately end any chance Westwood had of picking up career Tour win No. 3, while adding yet another notorious chapter to the Englishman’s lore of disappointing near misses.
Oosthuizen meanwhile had more bogeys on Sunday (four) than in his first three rounds combined (three), and never really got going. Oosthuizen and Westwood both finished T-6, even-par for the day, and 18-under overall.
Poulter charged into the lead on the strength of six birdies through the first 11 holes. And at the par-5 No. 15, Poulter launched a spectacular greenside flop to 15 feet. With lionized, bulging eyes visualizing imminent glory after yet another clutch birdie conversion, Poulter had a three stroke lead, with three holes to play.
“It was a special day,” Poulter said. “I knew there was a good round of golf in me on this course.”
But victory was in jeopardy when his string of 37 consecutive bogey-free holes ended at No. 17, and opened the door for Mickelson, who finished Sunday with a 66. Lefty found himself just one shot back with two holes to go, but couldn’t capitalize on the rare Poulter miscue. Unable to get up and down from right of the green, Mickelson fell victim to bogey on No. 17 as well, and finished T-2, 19-under, along with Els, Jason Dufner, and Scott Piercy.
Poulter left a little drama for the imagination on No. 18, hitting his second shot disobediently into a bunker. But showing the same steadfast composure he displayed at Medinah, Poulter chipped out to five feet, and then held on to sink his par putt, finishing 21-under, good for the two shot victory and $1.2 million.
“It’s so nice to get my hands on another trophy,” Poulter said. “I’ve been in good form for awhile, and knew if I did the right things, and stayed patient, I would be right there. It’s been an amazing six weeks.”
Poulter’s glory takes root
Poulter’s WGC-HSBC Championships title puts a resounding exclamation point on a 2012 season that defines Poulter not only as the most clutch player in Ryder Cup history, but also as one of the Tour’s topflight players.
After Poulter’s win at HSBC, Rory McIlroy congratulated his Ryder Cup teammate on Twitter.
“Ballsy up and down on the last,” McIlroy tweeted. “Wouldn’t expect anything less.”
But Poulter has always been ballsy. He just hasn’t been ballsy in Tour events like he’s been in the Ryder Cup, and in European Tour events – until now. Poulter finished inside the top-10 at the Masters, The Open Championship and the PGA Championship this season. And he would have arguably won the PGA Championship if not for a record-smashing masterpiece by McIlroy.
By most accounts Poulter has not so quietly put together one of the best seasons of his spirited career. And even his strongest critics will find it difficult to deny Poulter’s shown as much talent to win on Tour as anyone not named Rory or Tiger. Poulter’s always been successful on the European Tour, winning 11 times in his career. But victories on that “other” tour for some reason carry a stigma that they don’t mean as much as PGA Tour wins.
Nevertheless, Poulter is T-21 all-time in European Tour wins. By comparison that puts him ahead of iconic players Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott, and major champion Martin Kaymer. And if you look at the PGA Tour all-time winners list in comparable position to Poulter? You’ll find the likes of Lee Trevino and Gary Player. That’s pretty good company to keep.
Poulter’s European accomplishments shouldn’t be discounted. It’s where you’ll find the starting line to his PGA Tour success. You see it in all sports. When a player suddenly strings together a few good performances, confidence starts pushing natural ability to step on the gas. It’s happening with Poulter right now. Poulter is soaring. Still, for most players, majors define careers, and Poulter is no exception.
“People keep asking me all the time, ‘when when, when’,” he said. “I don’t know when and I’m trying really hard. I’ll do my best next year.”
So now long overdue “Poulter’s best” finally and deservedly means being recognized as one of the Tour’s best players. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if that also means major victory for Poulter in 2013.