Golf: Poulter says Pebble Beach will be battle of the ball strikers

IAN POULTER believes it is no mystery that some of golf's greatest players have won the US Open on its four previous visits to Pebble Beach.

The world No.8 from Hertfordshire, who won his first title in the United States earlier this year at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, says there is a good reason why Jack Nicklaus (1972), Tom Watson (1982), Tom Kite (1992) and Tiger Woods (2000) are the players to have won the coveted championship at the famous Monterey Peninsula links in California. "(They are) pure ball strikers I think, more than anything else," Poulter, pictured, said. "Very methodical players. Guys that understand the game probably better than anybody else, to be honest.

"They know what it takes to win.

"It's definitely going to come down to one of the best ball strikers this week and somebody who is definitely finding their way on the greens."

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Poulter, who will tee off at 4.28pm BST today with Sweden's Henrik Stenson and Yuta Ikeda of Japan, admitted he was not in the best of form recently but said the US Open set-up was a tough but fair challenge that suited his game.

"I would think it's one of the ones I feel pretty comfortable at," he said. "I've been driving the ball, not for the last eight weeks, but I've generally been driving the ball very solid over the last 18 months and you do have to put it in play around this golf course. You can't afford to be missing fairways at US Opens and expect to be winning the trophy.

"So with that in mind I feel I've been driving the ball better over the last couple of days than I have been and I'm starting to hit my lines nicely.

"So if you are going to drive it well and be good with distance control this week, you definitely are going to have a good chance to win."

Poulter is one of four Englishmen in the world's top ten with Lee Westwood, who won the St Jude Classic last Sunday, ranked number three, Luke Donald at five and Paul Casey at nine.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy is at ten on a list headed by Woods and Masters champion Phil Mickelson, a five-time US Open runner-up.

Woods, who will partner Westwood and fellow former champion Ernie Els in one of the marquee groups of the first two rounds, recognises the depth of this year's field.

"I don't think it's just the Englishmen. There's a lot of guys playing well," he said.

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"Whether it's Westwood or Ernie who I'm playing with or some of the new young guys, Rory or Ryo (Ishikawa), there's a lot of kids and a lot of guys now who are playing well at the same time.

"And then obviously you have Phil there. So it's a pretty good year because there's a lot of guys who are playing well at the same time.

Westwood certainly thinks so and is relishing the opportunity to once again lock horns with both Els and the world No1 and the benefits it may bring.

"I've always enjoyed playing with Tiger," Westwood said. "You expect him to be there or thereabouts at the end of the week on the leaderboard.

"So to play with him the first two days you get to keep a closer eye on him and if he plays well sometimes that momentum could pull you through along with him if you are playing well.

"It creates a good atmosphere out there."


TOM WATSON may be 21 years older than the combined ages of his US Open playing partners today but Rory McIlroy believes the veteran American still has the game to be a contender at Pebble Beach this week.

Northern Ireland's McIlroy, 21, and Japan's 18-year-old rising star Ryo Ishikawa will join 60-year-old Watson on the tenth tee of the famous California links as the eight-time major winner returns to the scene of his 1982 US Open success. Given the elder statesman's near miss at the 2009 Open at Turnberry, when he lost a play-off to Stewart Cink and his top-20 finish at the Masters this year, McIlroy sees no reason why Watson cannot compete with the favourites.

"He had a great chance to win at Turnberry and Pebble Beach isn't the longest of US Open venues," McIlroy said last night.

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"It's definitely not going to be playing that long this week because it's so firm. So length won't be an issue for him. It would be great to see him play well over the first couple of days, especially as I'm in the same group."