Ian Poulter revived by break from game

Englishman feels the benefit from making equipment changes during six-week absence

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The Independent Online

Ian Poulter credits a bold decision to take six weeks off for his strong early showing at this week's WGC Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.

Poulter was on course for a second title at this event after reaching the semi-finals with a 3&2 victory over Steve Stricker. The champion at this event in 2010, Poulter went four up on the veteran American after 12 holes before wrapping up the win by sinking a 10-foot par putt at the short 16th.

He was already the last Englishman left standing at Dove Mountain following a host of early shocks which included exits for Luke Donald, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. He had earlier pulled off an emphatic 5&3 win in his third-round encounter with Tim Clark, of South Africa.

The result, following on from his win against Bo van Pelt 3&1 in the snow-delayed second round, was another sign of the benefit he is reaping from his period away from competitive action.

Having spent much of that time making a few equipment changes and working on his swing, Poulter is delighted with the outcome.

"I think that I'm probably more prepared than I've ever been," he said. "The equipment change involved changing shafts in all my irons, knocking a five-wood out of the bag, putting in an extra-gap wedge and picking up four miles an hour of ball speed on the driver, I couldn't have been any happier coming into this week.

"I couldn't be any happier with how I've struck it, how the ball flight has been and my yardages. No matter what happens, I will still be walking away from this event thinking I have made an improvement from where I was six months ago, and that's good."

Asked what had prompted his equipment change, Poulter said: "When you dive into my stats and look at areas that I need to improve and how the golf courses are set up year in, year out, I clearly need to hit the ball further to try and stay competitive.

"I also need to hit it higher and stop the ball quicker. If I continued with the same shafts, then it's just not going to happen, so I needed to look at ways to try and get better, get a bit stronger."

The matchplay specialist will face either the defending champion Hunter Mahan or US Open winner Webb Simpson in the last four. Earlier, the American Matt Kuchar had become the first player to reach the semi-finals by beating compatriot Robert Garrigus 3&2. He will face either Australian Jason Day or Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell.

McDowell had beaten Ireland's Shane Lowry 3&2 to set up a meeting with the Australian Jason Day, who knocked out the Masters champion, Bubba Watson, 4&3.

Long regarded as one of the best putters in the game, Poulter has developed into a formidable matchplay specialist with a steely focus unequalled by most of his peers.

He has been a talismanic force for Europe at the Ryder Cup and won the European Tour's Volvo World Match Play Championship in 2011, a year after clinching the WGC title at Dove Mountain.

"Obviously my record in match play is pretty good," said Poulter. "You come here knowing that if you play six great matches, you're going to be in a really good position.

"It's an opportunity, certainly the way the draw is done, where if you get through a good chunk of matches, then it potentially could be slightly easier to win a matchplay event than it might be in stroke play."

Poulter, who outplayed fellow Englishman Paul Casey 4&2 in the 2010 Match Play Championship final to earn his first PGA Tour title, has been delighted with his form here, particularly against the American Van Pelt as he hit seven birdies in a bogey-free display.

"When you play like that and you don't give your opponent anything, then obviously it's going to be a tough day for him," said Poulter.