INSIDE THE ROPES By TOM LaMARRE
Had Ian Poulter played in a bygone era, he might be a multiple major champion by now. The 37-year-old Englishman is one of the best match players in the world, and from its inception in 1916 until 1957, the PGA Championship was contested in match play. He simply was born too late.
Poulter, who makes his final tune-up for the Masters this week in the Valero Texas Open, captured the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in 2010, beating Paul Casey in the final, and reached the semifinals before finishing fourth in 2005 and earlier this season. In 2011, he defeated Luke Donald to win the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Spain, and tied for ninth the following year in his title defense. However, his best stuff has come in the Ryder Cup, where he has posted a 12-3-0 record in his four appearances in the matches, including 4-0 in singles, beating Americans Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker and Chris Riley in those head-to-head matches, Last year, he posted a 4-0 record at Medinah and is credited with almost single-handedly rallying the Europeans to an unlikely 14 1/2-13 1/2 victory after they trailed, 10-6, heading into the Sunday singles that usually are dominated by the Americans.
“I love match play,” said Poulter, who also has won 13 stroke-play titles around the world in his career. “I love the buzz of it. I like looking straight at the guys you are playing. It puts you under pressure and it’s a great format we don’t play enough of. ” … Stroke play, you’re playing against 155 guys and you’re slowly progressing into a week, 72 holes. Match play you have 18 holes to try to send your opponent home packing. “Hopefully you do that as soon as you possibly can and you save some energy for hopefully some rounds later in the week.”
Said Justin Rose, his fellow Englishman and Ryder Cup teammate: “He seems to make the clutch putts. He’s just one of those competitive guys, eye-to-eye, hates to lose.” Added Hunter Mahan, who knocked off Poulter in the semifinals of the Accenture this year: “I have so much respect for the guy and how he plays. There’s not one part of his game that really shines. He has a great short game and he’s a great putter, but to me, his determination and his will is his greatest strength. He’s never going to think he’s out of a hole.” For all his match-play prowess, Poulter often has been unable to have it carry over into his stroke-play events, and he admits it. Poults was able to do it late last year, when after leading the Euros to that memorable Ryder Cup victory, he rode the momentum to finish fourth in the BMW Masters and win the WGC-HSBC Champions Tournament on consecutive weeks in China. “I’ve only been one season (in his career) without a victory (actually two, 2005 and 2008), and I certainly didn’t want to go another one,” Poulter said after winning in China. “As well as I’ve played this year, it would have been a disappointment personally to have gone that year without winning, and for me and for how I played this year, it’s obviously a great and fantastic feeling, especially after the Ryder Cup to get my hands back on a great trophy like this.
“Hopefully I can continue with the confidence that I’ve got from the Ryder Cup, to just bottle as much of that as I possibly can and use that in stroke-play events.” Poulter would like to add to his stroke-play haul this week at TPC San Antonio, where he is playing for the first time. However, he and many others in the field can’t help but look ahead to the Masters next week, where Poulter hopes to become the first Englishman to claim a major title since Nick Faldo won at Augusta National in 1996. “I base my schedule around the majors, and obviously people and players get looked upon with how they have played golf over the years by how many majors they have won,” said Poulter, whose best finish in a major was second in the 2008 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, four strokes behind Padraig Harrington. “I have not done that yet … (but) I know I’ve got the golf game to be able to go out there and win majors. People keep asking all the time: ‘When, when, when.’ I don’t know when, and I’m trying really hard and obviously I’d like to put one in the trophy cabinet, simple.” If only it were match play.
PGA TOUR: Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas, Thursday through Sunday.
TV: Thursday and Friday, 3-6 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel; Saturday and Sunday, 1-3 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel and 3-6 p.m. EDT on NBC.
LAST YEAR: Ben Curtis holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole to seal a two-stroke victory over Matt Every and rookie John Huh. It was the fourth PGA Tour victory for Curtis, including the 2003 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s, but his first since the 2006 84 Lumber Classic. The 35-year-old Curtis opened with rounds of 67-67, playing those first 36 holes flawlessly before carding a double-bogey 6 on the first hole of round three. He held on despite shooting 73-72 on the weekend. His status on the PGA Tour had taken such a hit during his six-year slump that Curtis had to rely on sponsors exemptions and was playing for only the fourth time in 2012, but by winning he earned a two-year exemption.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: Greater Gwinnett Championship at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga., April 19-21.
TV: Friday, 12:30-2:30 p.m. EDT; Saturday and Sunday, 3-6 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.
LAST YEAR: Inaugural event.
LPGA TOUR: Kraft Nabisco Championship on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Rancho Mirage Country Club in Mission Hills, Calif., Thursday through Sunday.
TV: Thursday and Friday, noon-3 p.m. EDT and 6-9 p.m. EDT; Saturday and Sunday, 5-9 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.
LAST YEAR: Sun Young Yoo of South Korea sank an 18-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to defeat I.K. Kim, also of South Korea, minutes a after Kim inexplicably gave the title away. The 23-year-old Kim, who had taken the lead by holing a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th and a 20-footer for birdie on the 17th, had a one-foot putt to win the tournament on No. 18. Incredibly, she missed, her ball circling the cup before lipping out. Yoo, who claimed her second LPGA Tour victory and first major title, and Kim both finished with 3-under-par 69s. Yani Tseng of Taiwan shot 73 and squandered a 54-hole lead in the first LPGA Tour major of the season for the second consecutive season, winding up third.