Poulter ready to become big player
Whatever else Ian Poulter goes on to conquer in his already overachieving career, he can always claim to have finally rid the United States of one of its daftest myths. Not every Englishman resembles a Hugh Grant character; in fact here is the very opposite. Welcome to "The Assuming Englishman" and the golfer who is in contention going into today's final round of the Players Championship, fully expecting to win.
Of course, it will always take more than grand intentions to land grand titles and below the majors they don't come any grander than the Sawgrass spectacular. Particularly when you have just shot a three-over 75 on the Saturday and a certain Tiger Woods is also alongside you in that logjam in second place. In all there are six – yes, six – on six under, five behind Alex Cejka. With the utmost respect to the runaway German leader, all of them will fancy their chances. Even Poulter's unheralded compatriot, Brian Davis, who is bubbling on five under.
But obviously, none will have simmered more than Woods, who will set out in his usual red on a Sunday disbelieving he is in the final grouping. Regardless of whatever disadvantages the halfway leaders were perceived to be operating under yesterday – crusting-up greens, the capricious Florida gusts that seem to get more malevolent by the hour – it was incredible how quickly Woods crept up that scoreboard, having started seven behind the lead and thereafter doing nothing that, in his lexicon anyway, would qualify as "special".
Indeed, when the world No 1 putted out for a 70, he would have imagined being within sniffing but not mauling distance. See, even Woods does not know everything about golf. Certainly, as a one-time champion of the Players (way back in 2001), he does not know everything about Sawgrass.
One thing Woods does know, however, is how to thrill the crowd, even when he is far from his best. Again, he reminded of Seve rather than Tiger. First, on the 11th, he played a near-perfect left-handed shot from the base of a pine tree with a flipped-over iron and then, after making birdie on the notorious island-greened 17th, he made an outrageous par on the 18th.
Woods pushed it into the trees and from there could not emulate his shot from the night before when he conjured a magical recovery to 12 feet. This time the rough was not so obliging and the seven-iron received something of a flyer. But just as it seemed odds-on to find the water behind the 18th green it came to an emergency stop – as if some celestial force had slammed its fist against the dashboard – a foot short in the Bermuda rough. From there he inevitably performed a magical up-and-down. Lady Luck and Woods have this deal...
But so, too, do Poulter and that frivolous dame. At least that is what he believes. He stepped out here yesterday with a discernible strut that soon turned into a limp as the infamous Ponte Vedra layout decided to bare its teeth. In the swirls he kept misjudging his irons and with Cejka looking so solid, his task is rather imposing.
In fairness to Poulter, there will be rather more than his own infamous ego spurring him on today to believe his time is nigh and that Britain will at last have a Players champion to put alongside Sandy Lyle in 1987. If his opening two rounds of 67 and 68 had contained enough pin-pointed irons and enough holed putts to make this golfing peacock's feathers fan out, then there was also the events of Kentucky last September to remind of the steel beneath the plumage.
"I don't think I will ever play under as much pressure as that again," said Poulter yesterday. "Everything from now on in, I can enjoy." Then, when asked what victory in "the fifth major" would mean, he replied: "It would be a step forward. It would mean everything. It would mean a couple of years of hard work. It would mean carrying it over from the Ryder Cup, from the way I played there, the way I played at the Open. It would mean stepping up another level." Here is that upper level. Is he capable of it?
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