There’s nothing Ian Poulter likes more than a good old battle. We know that from the Ryder Cup and, in particular, that unforgettable Saturday afternoon at Medinah in 2012. Just as he relished digging deep that day to finish with five birdies and give Europe momentum to match the event’s greatest fightback 24 hours later, so was fighting the elements in the third round of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Dundonald Links in Ayrshire.
Not since the scheduled Champions’ Challenge at the 2010 Open Championship at St Andrews had to be cancelled has a big event in Scotland witnessed such dire conditions. Officials had already taken steps to get play finished before “bad weather” was supposed to hit the Ayrshire coast around 4pm. In truth, that wasn’t really any worse than what players and spectators encountered for most of a truly miserable day.
“Brutally tough conditions,” was how Poulter summed it up after the 41-year-old survived to tell the tale, carding a 71 to share the lead heading into the final circuit with his fellow Englishman Callum Shinkwin and Australian Andrew Dodt. Shinkwin missed from three feet at the last to lead ouright, leaving the trio locked together on nine-under, two ahead of Andy Sullivan after a best-of-the-day 67 from another raider from south of the Border, with American duo Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar among the others still in the hunt on five-under.
As Padraig Harrington, one of the joint-overnight leaders along with Shinkwin and Germany’s Alexander Knappe, crashed out of contention following a 79 that started to go wrong when the Irishman missed two putts from around two feet in the first four holes, Poulter had that look in his eyes that shows he’s in the mood. He’d not felt confident on the strength of his practice rounds, but now his sights are firmly set on a first title triumph since landing the WGC-HSBC Champions in 2012.
“Attitude is everything,” he said after a round that saw him cover the first eight holes in two-under before dropping a shot at the 16th, the toughest hole on the course when it is flat calm and even more so when it is straight into the teeth of a wind like this one. “You can beat yourself up before you get on the golf course, which is a problem. You have to start with the right frame of mind, knowing it’s going to be a tough day and knowing that everyone else is going to have just as tough a day as you are, so you have to grind out pars and, if you can also take a few opportunities, then it will add up to a pretty good day.”
Poulter, who missed the cut in his last two Scottish Open appearances but also recorded a couple of top-tens when the event was staged at Loch Lomond, has enjoyed a real resurgence when, after fearing that he’d lost his PGA Tour playing rights, he was handed a reprieve when, thanks to fellow player Brian Gay raising the matter, it was discovered that there had been a miscalculation with his major medical extension.
In his very next event, Poulter tied for second in the Players Championship, came through a qualfier at his home club, Woburn, to get into to next week’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale and now, in one of the European Tour’s new £5.5 million Rolex Series events, is 18 holes away from a 13th triumph on his home circuit. “I’m in a good mental state,” he said. “Obviously a few months back, things were pretty difficult, but life’s a little bit easier right now and obviously I’m enjoying my golf. I’m in a great position and the buzz is there. I feel energised and excited about the golf I’ve been playing. I’m looking forward to tomorrow very much.”
Shinkwin, a 24-year-old from Watford, was helped by an eagle-3 at the 14th, hitting his approach stiff, as he held on to a share of the lead. The former English Amateur champion has had more disqualifications than high finishes this season, but has taken this test in his stride so far. “I don’t think I’ve played in wind and rain like that before,” he said after a 72. “It was brutal out there but I managed to grind it out.”
Like Shinkwin, Dodt is on course to secure an Open Championship spot – three are on offer for the leading non-exempt players in the top ten – after the 31-year-old from Brisbane birdied the last to move into a share of top spot. Booking a Royal Birkdale berth will force his plans for next week to be changed. “My wife flew in from Sydney this morning and we’ve got a five-day holiday booked in New York,” revealed the two-time Tour winner who held the outright lead in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May before being overtaken by Alex Noren, “but I’ll be glad to change that for a spot in the Open, my first major.”
Though admittely enjoying somewhat better conditions than the likes of Poulter later in the day, Sullivan’s five-under-par effort was impressive, to say the least. The 30-year-old Englishman was six-under through 15, dropped three shots in the next two holes before holing from out of a bunker for an eagle at the last. He reckoned having to wait a bit on the 18th tee had been the key to that grandstand finish.
“It probably did me a world of good as I was absolutely seething,” said the three-time 2015 winner. “I was waiting for the ambulance to appear on the 18th tee because there were a lot of sirens going off in my head. It was a good way to finish and meant all that hard work in the weather was rewarded.”