Poulter underlines his major talent on England's day of days
New world no 5 sees off compatriot Paul Casey to win the Match Play Championship
Monday 22 February 2010
Ian Poulter now has the title and the stature to go with the mouth and the trousers. In beating Paul Casey in the Accenture Match Play Championship final here yesterday, the record books opened for the new world No 5 who was once only famous for his outlandish claims and his outlandish dress sense.
Poulter became the first Englishman to win one of the four World Golf Championship events which only have the majors as their superiors. Seeing as none of his compatriots have lifted any of the big four since Nick Faldo in the 1996 Masters this can be seen as England's most prestigious victory in almost a decade and a half. And what made the experience all the more enjoyable for all of Poulter's countryfolk watching, was that with Casey as his opponent it was a win-win situation. Yes, England's glory was guaranteed.
"This feels very, very good," said Poulter after his 4&2 triumph in the 36-hole shootout. "I felt calm all day. Nerves did not even come into it."
Typically the 33-year-old chose to deck himself out all in pink for the most important day of his career. It is not Poulter's style to tiptoe unnoticed into the big-time. And why should he? To go with all the other firsts Poulter achieved at Dove Mountain, this happened to be his maiden victory in America. As he said: "It's been a long time coming. This was a special day for me and, with Paul there as well, a special day for English golf."
That much became certain when Casey returned to the course early yesterday morning and duly won his marathon semi-final with Camilo Villegas. The Colombian missed a three-footer on the fifth sudden-death hole the previous evening when the dark fell – and then on the resumption he bogeyed the 24th hole. Twenty minutes later Casey and Poulter were walking to the first tee together when a countryman stopped them and asked for whom he should root. "Ingerland!" shouted Poulter, with a smile.
It was a nice icebreaker. For they were not just playing for a bit of history and a lot of money (Poulter collected £900,000, Casey "just" £550,000); it decided who would wake up as No 5 and who would wake up as No 6. Whichever way it was to play out, the ranking list was certain to make pleasing reading in Britain this morning. With Lee Westwood in fourth it means there are three Englishmen in the top six. Not only is this an unprecedented concentration of quality in the 24 years since the rankings were introduced, but only the most mature of golfing fanatics will be old enough to remember any period when so many Britons were considered to be among the top of the elite. Back to the early decades of the 1900s perhaps?
The week began with Westwood bemoaning what he sees as British golf's lack of in comparison to the exposure received by the only British tennis player in the top 100. The ensuing action provided emphatic proof.
Obviously, there remains a glaring necessity for a major before the heralding of a golden era can be confidently screamed from the clubhouse rooftops. But at least Britain can now say without fear of hype "the next step truly is a major". Both of these last men standing – to quote the tournament's promotional bumf – are capable of taking the biggest step of all in the forthcoming months. Particularly as a certain world No 1 continues his indefinite break.
Casey went away as runner-up for the second time in as many years. However, he took away the consolation that the rib injury which blighted the second half of last year is almost recovered. He was not at his very best here yesterday and fatigue may have been slightly to blame. But he was not looking for excuses. "You will probably all write that Casey was rubbish," said the former world No 3. "But Ian played fantastically today."
Indeed, he did as his 12 birdies in the 34 holes signified. Poulter has taken so many strides in the desert. He already has enough Ryder Cup qualifying points to be virtually assured of making his third appearance for Europe at Celtic Manor in October. Regardless of their personal differences in the past, Colin Montgomerie will be so glad to have the 34-year-old in Newport.
There has never been any doubt about Poulter's competitive spirit. After all, he won in each of his first five seasons on Tour. But there was about the quality of his all-round game. No longer. Here his range of shots impressed almost as much as peerless putting. If his runner-up performances in the 2008 Open and the 2009 Players Championship confirmed Poulter's arrival on the big stage then this Championship has provided proof that he is capable of becoming one of his sport's main performers. "It was my goal to reach the top five this year," he revealed. "It's another box ticked. But there are more boxes left."
And to think they all laughed themselves silly two years ago when Poulter declared he would be world No 2. "I know I haven't played to my full potential yet," he said. "And, when that happens, it will just be me and Tiger."
Just Poults and Tiger. By the time the latter returns, the rankings might just hold that to be true.
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