IT WAS what the galleries had been waiting for. It was almost what this event had been waiting for. Shy of the green and closer to a bunker than the hole, Ian Poulter watched as his chip charged towards the hole.
The once-proud gladiator didn’t strut and prance this time, he didn’t celebrate prematurely, even his mighty confidence undoubtedly knocked by a golf game that had thus far failed to ignite. Instead he stood stock still, doing exactly what every other European was doing. He silently willed it to drop.
When it did, it was as though all the emotion that had been stifled and denied the freedom of expression throughout the first day and a half had vaulted the barriers as one and surged to the surface. The trademark Poulter roar was released, the fists pumped, he thumped his chest, which was no doubt struggling to contain a swelling heart, the eyes bulged and the European fans lapped it up.
And there were plenty of them. The last fourball contest out on the course, the punters were packed in tightly on the banking which rose imposingly up around the 15th green, and standing ten and 20 deep behind the ropes. The cheers ricocheted around the natural amphitheatre as his playing partner Rory McIlroy bounced about, beaming with delight.
“It was nice to get the juices flowing,” said Poulter, who is as determined as ever to keep red off the scoreboard and play his part in another European Ryder Cup success. The talismanic figure in Medinah two years ago, the much-hoped for reprisal of that role had not gone to script. But one down and with USA well-placed to double that advantage, he knew it was a pivotal moment. Having been 2-up at the turn, the match then flipped on its head when Rickie Fowler hit a genius bunker shot on the 10th to stun the European pairing who had been sitting pretty on the green and sensing the chance to extend their lead. His colleague Jimmy Walker then rattled in birdies on the 11th and the 13th and the momentum was with the United States. Tom Watson’s team had already won two of the first three fourballs and But the idea of them making it three out of four did not sit comfortably with such a fierce competitor. Playing alongside the World No.1, the same man who partnered him as they kickstarted the comeback two years ago, they had been animated throughout the round. Striding along side by side, they left everyone watching in no doubt they were a team. They chatted, they advised each other, they encouraged and, apart from a lull in the middle of the round when the US pairing upped their game and they temporarily struggled to elevate their own accordingly, they dovetailed well.
More importantly, as big game hunters they sensed the danger presented by Fowler and Walker, who were unbeaten in their two outings on Friday, and at the 15th they knew they had to stop the rot.Poulter was first up. As the ball disappeared into the cup, the air was alive with a heady mix of disbelief and jubilation.
“There was a lot of emotion,” said Poulter. “It’s been waiting to come out. It took way too long for it to do so, but it was nice to be able to do it in that fashion. 15th hole was very much looking like the U.S. Team were going to go 2-up with three to play. And it’s a funny game sometimes. You know, chip-ins, holed bunker shots; Rickie done it to us on 10. They are both in the trap to the left and Rory and I are looking pretty good on ten feet and kind of 12 feet away, and he holes and we miss, and that hole switches around. It was crucial. It was nice to be able to get something out of that match.”
Buoyed by his first half point of this year’s contest, he stopped short of giving his usual assurance that he will deliver a point when he heads out for the singles today but he will set off from the first reinvigorated and ready.
That’s how he looked yesterday as he bounded towards the 16th tee, surfing that sense that something special was evolving. The players felt it, so too did the crowd that swelled yet further and they birdied once again to level the match as the pairings headed towards the final two holes. In the end it was five birdies in the final five holes. But it wasn’t quite enough to shake off the Americans and take the point.
But he knows that even half points can make the difference when the final scores are counted. “Any of the matches that are looking like they are going to favour one way and then all of a sudden they can sway back and someone can grab half a point is crucial...Whenever you can just sow the seed of doubt, then it makes a big difference.”
The aura of invincibility is not there this year but still Poulter brings something to the party. He brings heart and passion and he is part of the bonhomie and camaraderie that underpins the European team.
This time others are weighing in with more of the points and plenty of the banter, including Henrik Stenson who, having wrapped up another victory alongside Justin Rose, hightailed it to the 15th just in time to see the momentum switch.
“I just showed up, and you showed up,” he said turning to Poulter with an amused smile, acknowledging that it was about time the man they call The Postman turned up. The Englishman earned that moniker because, on this stage, he always delivers.
“This time it was second class post,” he said. His tardiness will be excused if he can continue to channel the emotions he has finally unleashed in a manner befitting such a talismanic character.