Perfect putt puts Poulter back on path to victory

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The Independent Online

Ian Poulter admitted a return to winning ways was a welcome feeling as the Englishman posted his first victory of the year by capitalising on a monster par putt to win the Dunlop Phoenix tournament here in Japan yesterday.

Poulter carded a respectable one-under-par 69 in gusty winds at Phoenix Country Club, never surrendering the lead over the final 10 holes, although his triumph was not nearly as comfortable as his three-shot cushion over the fast-finishing Spaniard, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (68), suggests.

"I was very much aware that this was the last strokeplay event of the year. It's a lovely feeling to win again, and it's so nice to come and do it in Japan," Poulter said after finishing at 11-under 269 for his ninth worldwide victory, and his first outside the European Tour.

Luke Donald (71) faded down the stretch to tie for third with Japan's Shingo Katayama (68), four strokes off the pace, while the defending champion, Padraig Harrington (69), was equal fifth, another two shots adrift. The par-four 12th proved the pivotal hole for Poulter, who seemed destined to fall back into a tie for the lead with Donald, only to sink an unlikely 40-foot putt from the fringe to salvage par.

"The putt, swinging left to right with the last seven or eight feet onto the down slope, I was just trying to two-putt it," he admitted.

"In that position, you're trying to get it close enough to where you don't three-putt. It was a huge boost to see it go in. It took a bit of pressure off." Buoyed by the reprieve, he curled in a six-foot birdie two holes later to extend his lead, and was never headed after that.

Donald, who began the day in second place, pulled even after six holes, but a double-bogey at the par-four eighth proved costly.

"I caught a flier, hit it over the green and made double, and that stopped the momentum," he said.

"I didn't really play great after that, give myself enough chances. Ian was stumbling a bit. He three-putted 11 and looked like he was going to make a bogey at 12.

"It would have been a good two-putt bogey and it went in. You always need a little fortune to win and that was his there."

Poulter will try to use this victory as a springboard to a great 2008, much as Harrington went on to great things after winning last year, adding this year's Open to his trophy collection.

"I have played very steady all year," Poulter said. "I've felt comfortable all week this week. It would be nice to know exactly why, because if you could do that every week you could get into that winning position every week. I'm happy to play good golf when I am under pressure and when I really feel I have to win."

* The Spaniard, Miguel Angel Jimenez, took his second Hong Kong Open title in three years after claiming a thrilling final-hole victory over the overnight leader Robert Karlsson. Jimenez held his nerve after missing two putts on the 18th to finish with a bogey which still gave him a one-stroke victory with a 15-under-par total.

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