Poulter falters as Price homes in on his lead

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As an avid supporter of Arsenal, Ian Poulter will appreciate better than most that there is no such thing as a big enough lead. One minute you are a certainty for the title, the very next... But standing on the 14th tee at the Wales Open yesterday with a six-shot lead and the sun on his back, Poulter must have felt a little complacent. Indeed, he might even have speculated that it was possible he could go through the entire round without losing a single hole.

Three holes later and his lead was down to one, with the local hero, Phillip Price, on his shoulder being urged on by a record crowd. Poulter recovered his composure enough to finish the day with a two-shot lead on 16 under, but by then the Welsh could tell they were in for a glorious Sunday.

They love nothing more than a cross-border skirmish in these parts, and Price's typically assured 68 means the pride of Pontypridd will go head-to-head with Poulter today. "It would be fantastic to win here in Wales," Price said. "The crowd will obviously be right behind me."

There will also be a concerted assault right behind him, as just two off Poulter is Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson, who is one ahead of Scotland's Andrew Coltart and Australia's Jarrod Moseley. All will have believed Poulter was out of sight before the bogey-man located him. As Price was later to say: "The way Ian was playing, if he'd stayed at 19 under we'd all have had a bit of a problem."

Bogeys at the 14th and 15th had been costly enough for the 27-year-old Englishman, but it was the 16th that could yet prove Poulter's "Bolton away".

After he had driven into a fairway bunker, his approach was hit too cleanly, into the thick rough on the left. From there he went one duff, two duff before chipping rather untidily to eight feet. It took all his guts to hole it for a double bogey, and just as many to birdie the last.

Rarely can a round of 68 have had so many highs and blows. "All in all it was good day," Poulter said. "There's obviously been no one behind the 16th green for a while, because I got a horrendous lie."

Not that the resulting three-shot swing fazed this most confident of golfers, who will be seeking a fourth Tour title to end a miserable run that has seen him miss five out of the last six cuts. "I was perfectly comfortable in that situation, as the birdie on the last showed. There were no collywobbles," he said.

He could have been forgiven if there were, especially as he has been suffering all week with a bout of tonsillitis and had played some exquisite golf up until he hit his trouble hotspot.

He was seven under for 13 holes, which included a remarkable eagle on the treacherous par-five second. He went in and out of the bunker guarding the green with his second shot on that 600-yarder, and will be hoping for much of the same today, as there is considerably more than just a £250,000 cheque riding on his projected duel with Price. The 36-year-old pipped Poulter for the final place in last year's Ryder Cup, a chance that Price grabbed with both hands by so famously beating Phil Mickelson in the singles. A similar performance today will send Poulter back home to Milton Keynes sore in more places than merely his throat.

What with Poulter and his tonsils and Moseley and his sniffles, never has the warning "Beware the sick golfer" echoed as loudly around the fairways. The Australian caught a cold from his two-year-old daughter at the B&H at the Belfry a few weeks ago, but while there was plenty of the coughing yesterday there was little of the spluttering as he broke the course record by two with a 63.

The 31-year-old only holed one putt of any notable length - a 40-footer on the par-four 15th - but still collected eight other birdies in a blemish-free round. He caused most embarrassment to the card with his 30 on the back nine, which was grandstanded with four birdies in the last four holes in the feared, uphill Wentwood Hills finish. But behind, Jacobson was threatening to make the march of Moseley look rather pedestrian.

Out in 32, Jacobson turned around on to the par-fourth 10th ready for a streak. The Swede ripped off four consecutive birdies, and at eight under for the day, with five holes still to play, Moseley's record looked there for the overtaking. A bogey five at the 15th, however, applied the brakes, and he cruised in for a 64 and 13 under par.