What came later on a warm and muggy afternoon never had a chance to live up to the morning's drama. In the tournament where Ian Poulter and Justin Rose contested a memorable final-round duel a year ago, the pair started the day on the cut-line of level par.
Rose, defending the Damovo British Masters title, was off in the fourth match of the morning, and Poulter, who won last week in Wales, followed in the next pairing. As they warmed up on the practice range, Poulter suggested a few side-bets. The stakes were £50 for an eagle, £5 for birdies and £10 for each shot difference in score.
No wonder Rose was looking a sick man by the time the pair was back in the clubhouse by lunchtime. His losses were £140 after a 73 in which he made only two birdies. This could not compare with Poulter's quite breathtaking effort of 63, which equalled the course record. There were 10 birdies, and he made only one bogey, at the final hole.
At the moment Poulter finished his round, he had taken the lead at nine under par. Once play had concluded some time later, only Greg Owen, the overnight leader, had pressed in front. The 31-year-old from Mansfield, who is still looking for his first win, returned a 67 to be 13 under. Four strokes behind, alongside Poulter, was the Australian left-hander Richard Green.
The first couple of days had been frustrating ones for a number of players. Colin Montgomerie missed the cut when he dearly needed more time on the course ahead of the upcoming US Open in Chicago; Darren Clarke, on a course where he has won twice, could not get the putter going; and Lee Westwood was doing his usual one step forward and one step backwards.
Rose had been in striking distance of the lead early in his second round but then collapsed, and only just made the cut alongside his friend Poulter. "Justin was a bit frustrated," Poulter said. "I told him we were only eight strokes off the lead. If we went out in the morning when the greens are prefect and there isn't much wind, there was a really low score there. Two 65s could still win it."
That was exactly what Rose achieved last year at Woburn, but it was Poulter who capitalised. "I've just proved what I said last night," he said. "That's one of the nicer rounds I've ever played, and the best chance I've ever had for a 59. I missed three or four putts from eight feet."
The 27-year-old from Milton Keynes was suffering from tonsillitis while winning in Wales. Having recovered, he spent the first two days trying to swing too hard. He reverted to his smoother action that worked so well a week ago, and that did the trick. His recent run of five missed cuts in six tournaments, after slightly modifying his swing with David Leadbetter, must seem a world away.
He birdied the first four holes, all from inside 10 feet, and then the seventh and the ninth. His four at the par-five 17th was his fourth birdie of the back nine, but at the last he was left with an 80-footer for a two and left it 18 feet short, his par attempt lipping out.
Owen safely got up and down from a bunker at the last to retain the benefit of an eagle at the 17th. He dropped just one stroke all day, but his only concern was a slight twinge in his ribs after his second at the sixth.
"I felt very calm today and I hope I can feel that again tomorrow," he said. "Losing in Portugal recently upset me, and so I'm looking forward to the challenge tomorrow."Reuse content