Two by two the English went out on to the Augusta National yesterday, each foreseeing the end of their country's Masters drought. Luke Donald and Simon Dyson, Ross Fisher and Chris Wood... if the old strength in numbers theory holds any weight at all then Nick Faldo's last Green Jacket in 1996 may soon have another companion on the rail.
But then came a three-ball to send the jingoists wild. England has never gone into a major boasting three members of the world top 10 before. But here they were; a trio of red roses rising proudly above the azaleas. The No 4 – Lee Westwood. The No 6 – Paul Casey. The No 7 – Ian Poulter. As a statement of a nation's intent it was positively Churchillian.
Poulter, of course, has always been one for the grand remark and yesterday he was happy enough to bang the drum. "Lee's said we're coming here mob-handed and he's right," he said. "What is there? Three Englishmen in the top 10, eight here in all? That's 10 per cent of the field. Pretty impressive. It is time one of us stepped up. It'll be fantastic if we can."
Except that's where it starts and ends for Poulter and presumably Westwood and Casey, too. It is tempting to think of them heading into tomorrow's first round in a collective bid to redress Britain's major imbalance. But this isn't the Ryder Cup and this isn't a team event. It is every Englander for himself, and if that involves humbling his countrymen in the process then so be it.
"I never think about England not having a Masters champion for 14 years, or Britain not having won a major for more than a decade," said Poulter. "I want to win this not because we haven't had a winner for so long, but because I want to win. Sure, if I don't win it'd be great if one of the guys did it instead. We are all good friends and spur each other on. We decided over lunch on Monday that the three of us would go out and have a bit of fun. Come Thursday, things will be a lot quieter. We want to win and that is not about having a laugh. We've all got our jobs to do."
Poulter stood on the driving range yesterday, confident that plenty of his job was already complete. Two painstaking days at Augusta last week convinces him that, "I am better prepared for a major than I've been before". "I've done all my homework, I can't do anymore," he said. "I've never felt this ready."
With that he flipped out a book from his back pocket to provide evidence of his meticulous reconnaissance. Here were the crib-sheets he will use to plot his way up the leaderboard. Whenever Poulter is shown on a green over the next few days he will be seen reading the notes which inform him of the contours and breaks for each green. To the layman's eye it is just a mishmash of lines and squiggles, not dissimilar to Arsène Wenger's chalkboard.
"Look at it," said Poulter, with more than a hint of pride. "You can't put any more lines on these diagrams of the greens. It's physically not possible. I've scanned all the greens as closely as I can. It's taken me hours to compile. I spent five hours on the first nine last Monday and five hours on the back nine last Tuesday. I've tried to create every scenario imaginable in and around the greens."
Little wonder Poulter feels so ready; little wonder he feels so fresh. When he won the WGC World Match Play Championship in Tucson in February – the career-changing success which briefly hurtled him into the world's top five – he made a conscious decision to take off the fortnight leading into the Masters. He has always performed well after a break but he never felt able to skip both of the big-money events which precede Augusta. That is where Poulter is right now. With the ranking to match the self-belief, with the preparation to match the ambition.
"It's now the time to stop thinking about ifs, whats and buts and about going out there and playing golf," he said. "I always love coming to this course. I love it; my family loves it. It's a giggle in the house and that helps. I was having breakfast with my Uncle Phil this morning and he was telling me how he was asked for ID when buying a beer at Atlanta airport the night before. He's 55. It's easy to relax with so many friends and family. It's funny, I've got one of my Dad's mates over. It's his first time here and he was running around the house this morning like a little schoolkid. This place does that to you."Reuse content