Poulter in front after wonder putt

Extrovert Englishman sinks 70-footer at the last to take share of lead in Abu Dhabi
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The Independent Online

Show Ian Poulter a spotlight and he is prone to hop, skip and jump into its focus and make an exhibition of himself – particularly when he has been in the shadows awhile. So it was for the Englishman here yesterday as he took the first-round lead despite not playing for six weeks.

Perhaps it was no surprise that Poulter should choose to produce the most outrageous shot of this first day of the Abu Dhabi Championship just when the galleries happen to be at their largest. Underneath the grandstand of the 18th green, he rolled in a 70-footer for a seven-under 65, which put him at the head of the scoreboard alongside his countryman Richard Bland and South Africa's Kevin Horne and one ahead of a group including the Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy. Typically Poulter referred to the monster putt as "a nice little bonus".

"One of my goals at the start of the year was to hole more 20-foot putts," he said. "And I said to my caddie 'I hope you're keeping count, a few of those are going in'. And they just kept going in. They dried up on the back nine a little – but there was that little bonus on the last."

Still, even blessed with his confidence, Poulter hardly ventured out on to the National Course anticipating such a low number. "I wasn't expecting to come out quite as fast, but I'll take it," said the world No 12. "I hit it lovely. I started practising on Tuesday and I didn't feel 70 per cent let alone the way it was today. I put extra sessions in on Tuesday and Wednesday and my hands were raw and sore. I've done an awful lot of hard work and it definitely paid off."

In truth, all the signs pointed to a positive result for Poulter this week. After all, he returned from a similar break to end a two-year winless streak at the end of last year. "I'd taken six weeks off before Singapore, and I've done a very similar thing this time around, putting the clubs down for three-and-a-half weeks," he said. "So I'm fresh and I'm hungry to go. When you take a five-week break you are excited to go back out there and perform."

Certainly, Poulter has plenty to perform for, what with him being so close to his long-stated mission to enter the world's top 10. Then there is the Ryder Cup, which he is intent on making by right and not having to go through Colin Montgomerie's wildcard selection.

Indeed, we may be in January but already those three days in October are influencing the professionals in so many aspects. Take Martin Kaymer. The young German is prepared to set off metal detectors in airports for the rest of the year in his determination to make it to Celtic Manor.

After an opening 67, Kaymer revealed how he intends to play an entire season with the plates and screws in his foot which were inserted after a go-karting accident last August. Four broken toes sidelined the 25-year-old for two months and eventually did for his money list hopes. He is not about to let the injury affect his playing ambitions again – even if it would be for just 20 days.

"The doctor said that if I take the plates out it could take two and a half weeks to recover, but that is not possible at the moment," he said. "I don't take three-week breaks. So they will have to stay in there. I will probably take them out in December."