Despite arriving at golf's top table and justifying his wild-card pick, Poulter is left 'deflated'
GIVEN how successful Ian Poulter has been throughout his career when he places himself in the eye of the storm, perhaps it shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise that the flamboyant Englishman turned out to be Europe's most driven Ryder Cup competitor at Valhalla.
The leading scorer on either team with four points after he defeated Steve Stricker 3&2 in singles, it was typical of this controversial figure that Poulter wasn't satisfied. "I should have won five out of five," he said. "It wasn't good enough."
Caught up in a row partly of his own making before the 37th match got under way – his decision not to attend the Johnnie Walker championship at Gleneagles and play his way into the side was widely derided – Nick Faldo's wild card selection arrived in Louisville with a huge statement to make both about his abilities as a golfer and the strength of his character.
With a spiky hairstyle which makes him resemble one of those characters in the Beano who have just poked a finger in a socket and received an electric shock, Poulter has long relished being the centre of attention. Earlier this year, he posed nude on the cover of a magazine with only a golf bag to hide his modesty.
Inside the magazine, there was an even more naked display of the Milton Keynes' golfer's ambition in an interview where he declared: "I haven't played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger (Woods]." This ridiculous remark attracted widespread opprobrium and much hilarity among the golfing elite. When Tiger, who was playing in the same event as Poulter in Dubai, walked past the Englishman on the range, he quipped: "Hi, No 2."
Like his mentor Faldo, however, Poulter's DNA is missing the embarrassment gene. Not the type to cringe at his own gaffes, the Englishman shrugged off the fall-out from that absurd interview and went on to finish runner-up to Padraig Harrington in the Open at Birkdale.
If the boastful, brazen side of Poulter's character is hard to swallow for those of us who prefer our golfing greats to command the spotlight with the understated aura of champions such as Woods and Ben Hogan, even his most vociferous critics can't deny that the Englishman's self-obsession singles him out as a formidable opponent.
A peacock with a Kalashnikov in match play, Poulter had to shed some of his famously colourful plumage this weekend. When he walked on to the tee wearing the same outfits as his European team-mates, the 32-year-old was asked by one onlooker if he'd left his fancy dress at home in Buckinghamshire. "Don't worry," he chirped, "I've got pink boxers on underneath."
True, his second appearance at the Ryder Cup began in flawed circumstances here in Kentucky on Friday morning with a missed short putt on the 18th green. The lip-out cost Europe a point in a match where Poulter and his partner Justin Rose should have defeated Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell.
While there were plenty of grounds to brand Faldo a plonker for the way he handled Europe in Louisville, the shrewd manner in which he bolstered Poulter's ego was not one of them. Instead of benching the man he nicknamed Raquel, after the character in Only Fools and Horses, the captain put him straight back out with Rose and was rewarded with a 4&2 win over Stricker and Ben Curtis.
Buoyed by that taste of success, Poulter and Rose were sent out first in Saturday's foursomes and responded to the responsibility of bringing Europe back into the match by demolishing Cink and Campbell – the men they should have beaten 24 hours earlier – by 4&3.
When traces of longstanding back pain ruled Rose out of the afternoon session, Faldo demonstrated his faith in the man who most closely mimics his own personality traits by pairing Poulter with Graeme McDowell. In a thrillingly combative fourball duel with Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk, the Europeans combined for a better ball of 62 and Poulter birdied the last to earn a one- hole victory.
After holing a ticklish downhill short putt to secure the match, a wild-eyed Poulter turned to face his team-mates, who were sitting on the steep banking which surrounds the 18th green at Valhalla, before embracing his captain. It was a look which said: "I'm the man."
And, in the estimation of his peers, that's just what Poulter was at Valhalla. "If there was ever any doubt why this guy was given a wildcard pick, he's showed it the last two days," said McDowell. "He's an unbelievable team player. I really enjoyed playing with him. He's showing the world why he's on this team."
The only European to feature in all five sessions – astonishing given that players of the calibre of Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood were on Faldo's team – Poulter emerged as Europe's top points scorer and best player.
His second-place finish at Southport notwithstanding, Valhalla will go down as the moment when Poulter turned from a golfing caterpillar into a butterfly. A player of limited natural gifts who grafted to make the most of his talent – he's a fantastic clutch putter, which never hurts in match play – the Englishman has earned his place at golf's top table.
Recalling how he'd stood and watched his friend crouch over a putt on Saturday morning, Rose grinned: "This feeling came over me, and he probably won't thank me for saying this, but I said: 'Come on Poults, the fat kid from Milton Keynes, knock it in…' "
Sunday singles: match by match
ANTHONY KIM BEAT SERGIO GARCIA 5&4
Kim turned in 30 and three-up, while Garcia contributed to his own downfall by bogeying the sixth, putting two in the water on the next and missing a seven-foot chance to win the eighth. It was highly-charged stuff, with Kim pumping up the crowd. Garcia won the 10th, but three-putted the next two and bogeyed the 13th. A half on the next settled things – although Kim was off to the next tee before he realised.
Score: USA lead 10-7
JUSTIN LEONARD LOST TO ROBERT KARLSSON 5&3
Karlsson won the fourth, sixth and eighth with birdies and saved a half on the next with a 10-foot putt. Leonard bogeyed the 10th and after halving the next four shook hands on the 15th.
Score: USA lead 10-8
PHIL MICKELSON LOST TO JUSTIN ROSE 3&2
The first five holes were halved before Rose won the sixth and seventh with a par and a birdie to get a stranglehold on the match which he would never relinquish. A birdie at the 10th put the English rookie three ahead and he followed it with another on the 12th to move four clear. Mickelson briefly threatened a comeback with a birdie on the 15th but Rose sealed victory with a 30ft birdie across the 16th green.
Score: USA lead 10-9.
HUNTER MAHAN HALVED WITH PAUL CASEY
Casey won the opening hole with a par but lost three of the next five to fall two behind Mahan, who had won two and halved two of his four matches on Friday and Saturday. Casey got back to all square with birdies on the 10th and 12th but then three-putted the 13th and needed to almost hole his tee shot on the par-three 14th to stay one down.
A superb birdie on the 16th got Casey back on level terms but Mahan then holed a massive birdie putt on the 17th to edge one clear again. Casey then birdie the last to ensure the match was halved.
Score: USA lead 10-9
KENNY PERRY BEAT HENRIK STENSON 3&2
Perry birdied four of the first five to be three-up, lost the next, but then was handed the seventh on a plate when Stenson – like Garcia – dumped two balls in the lake. Holes kept being exchanged at the start of the back nine and Perry called for a doctor after feeling some shoulder pain, but the 48-year-old was not to be denied.
Score: USA lead 11-9
BOO WEEKLEY BEAT OLIVER WILSON 4&2
Weekley has been one of the stars of the week and continued his fine form with a host of birdies and a holed bunker shot for eagle on the seventh against the unfortunate Wilson. Weekley was seven under par for the first ten holes and even though Wilson did little wrong, there was little he could do against the inspired American. Wilson battled to the end and birdied the 15th to keep the match alive but Weekley ended in typical fashion with another birdie on the 16th to seal victory.
Score: USA lead 12-9
JB HOLMES BEAT SOREN HANSEN 2&1
Hansen, facing Holmes in all his three games, was two down after six, but came back to be one up with eight to play, his big-hitting opponent running up a six on the seventh and seven on the 10th, another par five. Home state man Holmes responded with wins on 11 and 14, lost the next, but excelled on the 16th and 17th.
Score: USA lead 13-9
JIM FURYK BEAT MIGUEL ANGEL JIMENEZ 2&1
Furyk was two up after three holes courtesy of birdies at the first and third, but Jimenez won the fifth with a par and then holed from a bunker for birdie on the sixth to get back to all square. However, the Spaniard went three behind when he bogeyed the 10th and 11th and Furyk birdied the 13th. Furyk then scrambled an amazing par on the 14th as Jimenez missed a short birdie putt and the 15th was halved in birdies as Furyk followed his opponent in from seven feet. Jimenez briefly raised hopes of a famous fightback when a par four on the 16th won the hole and kept the match alive, but the 44-year-old could not find a birdie on the 17th and the match and the Ryder Cup was over.
Score: USA lead 14-9
STEVE STRICKER LOST TO IAN POULTER 3&2
Stricker had been the strong man in his two fourball matches with Ben Curtis but had no answer to the inspired Ian Poulter, who more than justified his controversial wild card selection with his fourth point out of five.
Poulter started with four successive threes, birdied the sixth, and was four up at the turn after another birdie on the ninth. Stricker birdied the 10th to win his only hole of the day but another Poulter birdie on the 12th quashed any faint hopes of a comeback and he closed out a 3&2 victory on the 16th hole.
Score: USA lead 14-10
STEWART CINK LOST TO GRAEME McDOWELL 2&1
Cink had a hat-trick of birdies from the second and the middle of him took him in front. He bogeyed the seventh and ninth to lose the advantage, but it was back level when McDowell bogeyed the 11th.
Things were slipping away from Europe by then and although the Ulsterman won the 12th and 13th and shared the next four for victory it was too late to change things.
Score: USA lead 14-11
BEN CURTIS BEAT LEE WESTWOOD 2&1
Curtis opened with a birdie, then fell two down, but clawed his way back as Westwood must have sensed America were going to prevail regardless of what he did. Having lost the 11th and 12th to be all square Westwood won the next, but Curtis was hearing the cheers by then, birdied the next two and finished with another at the 17th.
Score: USA lead 15-11
CHAD CAMPBELL BEAT PADRAIG HARRINGTON 2&1
Harrington had asked to be put out last and hoped for "a really ugly game". Sadly the only ugly thing was the Irishman's golf, the winner of the past two majors making birdies at the first and third but still reaching the turn in 37, two over par.
That left him two down and after the winning the 12th with a par the Dubliner bogeyed the 15th and 16th on his way to a 2&1 defeat.
Score: USA won 16-11
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