Poulter not perfect but making strides on the big occasion

Ian Poulter has regularly seemed too keen to lick himself, not the opposition. And like his beloved Arsenal, he has too often been eye-catching without getting his mitts on the silverware.

The latter happened again yesterday but the 32-year-old peacock in pink trews came closer than ever before to landing a major, and he should have no regrets about his contribution to a dramatic denouement here.

At one point in the afternoon – 5.14pm to be precise – a birdie on the 16th hole gave Stevenage's finest a share of the lead with Padraig Harrington on seven under par. He then ceded a good chance to go better than that on the 17th when he might feasibly have bagged a birdie four but missed. But he maintained his seven-over for the tournament by finishing par-par for a one-under-par round of 69 yesterday.

In the end, that was good enough for second place, four shots off Harrington's pace. That substantial ultimate margin will probably make Poulter less rueful as time goes by. He will also be comforted that his performance here has pushed him to the brink of Nick Faldo's Ryder Cup team. He missed out in 2006, having scored the winning points for Europe on his debut two years earlier.

"Very probably things could have been better for me today," Poulter said afterwards. "At the start of the day I had a score in my mind that I wanted and was comfortable with what I shot. I would have taken one under par at the first tee.

"But I should have shot at least a couple lower. I missed from five feet on the 13th, and three-putted at 17 when I should have done better."

Actually, that three putt was not as bad as it sounds. His first putt was from 45 feet, and though he played only to within nine feet, conditions were not easy. Missing the second attempt understandable, and other shots on the day – a nerveless 12-footer for par the last, for example – were some compensation.

His second shot on the last hole had fallen short of the green, leaving a tough chip in gusty conditions. With balls being blown all over the place even on short putts, this was an eminently missable one. But after standing over the ball for some time, trousers flapping madly, he knocked it straight into the cup.

Poulter punched the air in glee. He was, at that stage, the clubhouse leader. With no obvious sign that the gales were going to leave, it was as likely at that stage that those behind him would continue to drop shots, not pick them up. But it was not to be.

Seve Ballesteros's old observation that the closest Poulter will get to the Claret Jug is the patterned trousers with jugs on them that he wore in previous Opens remains true, for now.

"Hats off to Padraig," Poulter said. "Not many people have won back-to-back Opens."

One other man who has, of course, is Tiger Woods, absent here. And Poulter, of course, rather infamously said earlier this year: "I respect everyone who is a professional. But the problem is I haven't played to my full potential yet. And when that happens it will just be me and Tiger."

On a similar theme yesterday – but with no suggestion whatsoever that he was being anything other than confident in himself, he said: "I've known I can perform and play well. I've put in a decent show today but I know I can go better."

He added: "I haven't enjoyed a week as much as this one. It was a massive adrenalin rush in front of those galleries and a massive boost. I didn't quite manage to do enough but it was a nice roller-coaster ride."

Poulter picks up a cheque for £450,000 for his second place, which will at least enable him to add to his car collection, if not his trophy cabinet.

On the prospect of getting into the Ryder Cup team, he said: "It would be nice to be there. I've certainly put myself right into the picture."

He has not qualified as of right yet, but is getting closer with more than a month still to go before the 31 August deadline. Perhaps more importantly than boosting his points, he has shown Faldo that he has the temperament for the big occasion.

"I hope this will be a springboard for me into the next few weeks," he said. "I want to be there this year. And I think I've got a lot to offer."

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