Kevin Garside: And the winner of the first Ian Poulter Passion Award is...
The Way I See It: Before Poulter's intervention, this event was dying on its feet as a spectacle
In Olympic and Paralympic year the Sports Personality gong is probably beyond him. Therefore I propose a category all on its own to be awarded to the sportsman or woman who demonstrates a degree of passion, skill and commitment that against all odds threatens to alter the course of events, change a game, stand an hour on its head. The winner in this, the inaugural year, is Ian Poulter for his astonishing display at the Ryder Cup in Medinah on Saturday. I further propose that henceforth the trophy carry his name. Thus have we created the Ian Poulter Passion Award.
Poulter hit the first ball of the day in a quite astonishing atmosphere that he himself created, and was responsible 12 hours later for that last act, sinking a fifth successive birdie in the half-light to give Europe a point and hope. So great was Poulter's contribution on this day that a player of the calibre of Rory McIlroy, the world No 1, double major-winning supernova, walked the last hour with his mouth agape at the level of performance that his fourball partner had reached.
Make no mistake, before Poulter's intervention this event was dying on its feet as a spectacle. The United States had steamrollered the life out of it and then along comes this spikey-haired fireball to re-ignite the whole shebang.
The implacable Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner were two up with six holes to play. They birdied three of those last six holes yet lost the match. Poulter hit heights of psychotic engagement that surpassed anything he had shown us before. And in a competition that defines him, that is saying something.
McIlroy dropped the first grenade with a birdie at the 13th hole to reduce the advantage then rode the Poulter vapour trail as he fist-pumped his way to the line. Putt after knife-edge putt arrowed into the back of the cup as if on rails. Finding the hole is a good deal harder when you know the fatal consequences of missing.
The opposition were not sitting back admiring the view, either. Poulter's birdies at 17 and 18 were to equal the American effort. In the context of a day that had seen Europe smashed in the morning and bullied at the top of the order in the afternoon Poulter's contribution entered the realms of the paranormal. In fading light and with his face incrementally distorted by successive adrenaline surges, Poulter cut a frightening figure. So much so that McIlroy looked like he might need counselling at the end, never mind Johnson and Dufner.
Suddenly the mood around the European team shifted. No longer were they the desperate, dishevelled, beaten lumps carting chins around Medinah in wheelbarrows. They were warriors once more up for the fight. It didn't matter that the numbers were against them. A 10-6 deficit would require a repeat of the recovery made by America at Brookline, which remains a Ryder Cup record. The point is, they believed. Luke Donald, who in the third fourball match returned with Sergio Garcia another vital point, had shed the haunted look he bore during the record 7 & 6 evisceration delivered by American talisman Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson in the morning foursomes. Sitting beside our hero, Donald said: "Seeing those putts go in, that's certainly given us a lift. It's given us a heartbeat tomorrow."
The rise in voltage was also felt by the Americans, who for the first time since Friday morning suffered a negative momentum swing. The advantage was still overwhelmingly theirs but not the last two points of the day. Though they had taken five of the previous six, the late show by Poulter forced them to pause. Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson recorded two victories by a margin of 5 & 4. Their only reverse came against Poulter and Justin Rose on Saturday morning. Poulter delivered two of the three points earned by Europe on Saturday; as Sunday dawned he had supplied half his team's match total.
The events on the first tee on Saturday were remarkable by any measure and broke new ground even for the raucous carnival that is the opening tee shot of the day. Poulter turned the ritual into a vaudeville act, whipping up the crowd with exaggerated hand gestures. Watson and Simpson marvelled at the Bedlam unfolding. The noise was off the scale when Poulter addressed his ball. Instead of descending into silence, Poulter demanded a decibel hike and smacked his ball as if hitting it out of the park at Wrigley Field.
Watson was awestruck. "I've got so much respect for that guy. That guy is an amazing talent. I loved it. I loved that he did it. I was behind him pumping the crowd up, letting them roar. That's what he wanted. I think it is great for the game. It made it fun. You saw how nerve-racking that is. The ball could go anywhere, but it's cool to see."
Let Watson's words be the inscription on the Poulter Cup, and the demand. The winner has to do what Poulter did. By force of will and character, he or she has to take a moment by the throat and, against the odds, change the game.
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