Poulter finds his putting to take Match Play and deny Donald No 1
Monday 23 May 2011
Ian Poulter never has paid any heed to what is and is not deemed feasible and here, once again, he ripped up the script on his way to winning the Volvo World Match Play Championship. First he beats the English world No 1, Lee Westwood. Then he goes and beats another countryman on the brink of becoming the world No 1, Luke Donald.
So, with a 2&1 success in the final, Poulter achieved what no other golfer has before; winning both "World Match Play" titles, having prevailed in Tucson last year. But it was joining the likes of Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Ballesteros, Faldo and so many other golfing A-listers, which truly made this 35-year-old gulp.
"I looked at the names on that trophy as I went on to the first tee and I thought how special it would be to put my name on it as well," said Poulter. "This week I finally held some putts."
Didn't he just. This Ryder Cup hero is known as an arch-master on the greens, but this year he has struggled. It has reflected in his results, with just the one top-10 finish. The mediocrity had hurtled him out of the top 20, but he hurtles straight back into it after scooping this £700,000 first prize. "There have been lots of questions answered here," said Poulter after winning for the 11th time in his career. "The results haven't been good for the last five months, but I told myself if I could hole some putts it would all come right."
Yet, it was not just the flat-stick but the heart which saw him prevail. This was the only match out of the six he contested which did not go down to the last. In all Poulter played a total of 108 holes in six days and 72 holes in 36 hours; a brutally demanding ask on this hilly course. "It was most tiring mentally," he said. "It was long, warm and I was playing the best players in the world."
Indeed, most believed he was playing "the best" yesterday afternoon. The overwhelming view was that Donald would become the first to win the match-play double and add the Volvo to the Accenture he lifted in February. It was all there for the 33-year-old.
The mantle of "best on the planet" awaited and with it the many accolades and sponsorship bonuses. "I'm very disappointed," said Donald. "I gave Ian too many opportunities and didn't take any of mine. That will leave a sour taste in the mouth."
In his frustration, it probably wasn't the most appropriate of times to be congratulating him for his 13th top-10 finish in his last 14 events, or indeed his sixth top-three placing in this staggering run of consistency. The stats signified he should have gone one better. Including last year's Ryder Cup, Donald had won his last 14 match-play contests going into the final, an incredible feat in this volatile format.
Then there was his semi-final display, which only strengthened the conviction. Martin Kaymer had his own chances of usurping Westwood, but was blown away 5&3 by Donald in the morning.
The German had gone into the heavyweight confrontation determined to perform more resiliently that he had in the Tucson final when he went down 3&2. As it proved, it was Donald doing the improving, stunning Kaymer in the process with seven birdies.
"He played like a machine," said Kaymer, "it's unbelievable. He hits all the fairways, all of the greens and then makes all of the putts. It's like PlayStation. He's playing his own game. I knew it was going to be difficult, but I thought maybe there would be a chance. I just didn't see any out there today. He never opens the door. If made a birdie, he made a birdie. It felt a bit impossible."
Kaymer was not belittling the challenge of Poulter. Anything but. Poulter's final-hole defeat of Westwood on Saturday morning confirmed what everyone already knew – this is a redoubtable match-play competitor. It was just that Donald's name had seemed written on that famous trophy as soon as he got into that relentless groove.
"He really deserves to win here and become the world No 1," said Kaymer. "The way he's playing golf at the moment... well it doesn't get better than that."
But then, as so often happens, the game recoiled on its supposed master. In truth, the first all-English final in the history of this famous trophy was not a classic. It definitely did not live up to the billing of the battle between the last two Accenture champions.
Donald's form, by his standards, was ghastly. The world No 2 had provided a hint of the mediocrity to come in his Saturday-morning match when scraping past the Swede Johan Edfors on the 19th.
By the back nine yesterday the rude health of the last eight months turned decidedly ugly. He even started missing putts. If the eight-footer he yanked to win the 13th was unexpected then the three-footer he tugged on the 15th to win the hole was in the realms of surreal. The best short-game merchant in golf had handed the momentum to Poulter. And this character requires no second invitations.
A 40-footer on the 12th began the roll, a beautiful pitch to four feet on the 14th maintained the pace and then another lofted iron to 18 inches took him two clear with two remaining. He left himself an eight-footer on the 17th, but the fist-pump soon followed. Wentworth this week awaits. What a proposition that now looks.
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