So the Great British Summer of Sport is officially over. Lee Westwood was supposed to keep the run going at the Open but he frittered away his lead. Ian Poulter, wearing tartan trousers, whipped the crowd into a frenzy to give brief hope of a British victory, but it was Phil Mickelson who came through to spoil the party. The British stranglehold on sport had to unravel at some time – at least golf fans everywhere love the goofy grinning Mickelson. He was a popular and worthy champion here.
Poulter did his utmost to recreate a Ryder Cup atmosphere out on the East Lothian links to fire up the spectators and intimidate the Americans on the leaderboard. He teed off two hours before the final group but started holing putts like it was Saturday afternoon at last year’s Ryder Cup when he birdied the last five holes to kick-start Europe’s Miracle at Medinah comeback.
He was it again yesterday. His crazy wild-eyed look was back as the putts began to drop with fist-pump punctuation marks. He surged through the field with an eagle at the 9th then birdied the 10, 11 and 12. With the wind stiffening, and the leaders leaking shots, the thought occurred that if Poulter could just get home in even par, it might just be enough to claim the Claret Jug.
“The excitement, the atmosphere and the fans out there were certainly giving me a lot of electricity and pumping me up,” Poulter said.
“It’s nice to be in front of a home crowd holing 15-foot putts for eagles and birdies and running up the leaderboard."
Poulter began the final round at five over par and eight shots behind Westwood. On the 13th tee, he was five under par for his round and back to level par for the championship. That was the moment, he said, when he thought to himself: “Hello, I’ve got a chance to win this.”
He said he looked up at the leaderboard and knew he was right in the mix. “I’m a leaderboard watcher,” he continued. “I always like to see what’s going on. Obviously I realize when you can get out in front and post a number, sometimes it’s a good position to be in.”
Poulter was the leader in the clubhouse at one over par after a final round of four under par 67. But the tone of his voice let you know that deep down he knew his score wouldn’t be quite good enough.
He was right. There was to be no Miracle at Muirfield. There was revenge of sorts for Team USA courtesy of Mickelson who birdied the final two holes to send Poulter to the airport. He finished tied third with Westwood and Adam Scott.
“I’m pleased but I can certainly look back at a couple of putts that slipped by which might be what’s required to put my hands on the trophy,” he admitted.
Did he think going to bed on Saturday night that he could win? “Probably not,” he said. “But you just realize that Paul Lawrie came from 10 back (to win at Carnoustie in 1999) and there was a six-shot swing in four holes last year.”
But it wasn’t to be. He watched Mickelson finish at three under par, turned to the camera and gave a thumbs up and a salute. It was a gesture of thanks to the fans and respect to Mickelson. Poulter had given it his best shot. And what entertainment he served up.
Poulter has endured torrid form this year despite, as he said recently, working his butt off. The red-hot putter from the Ryder Cup turned ice cold and so Poulter took the gamble to put a new one in his bag this week.
“The last time I burned foot prints in a putting green for as many hours as I have practised would have been back at Birkdale in 2008 when I changed my putter that week and finished second,” he said. “So I guess I’ve done something similar this week. Maybe I need to change my putter every week.”
The momentum killer for Poulter was a missed birdie chance at the par-three 13. He fizzed a gorgeous iron to the middle of the green but the 12-foot putt just trickled past the hole. His run of five shots gained in four holes was halted.
He leaned on his putter and stared in anguish. Chances came at 14, 15 and 17 but the well had run dry. “It’s been an incredible summer for British sport,” Poulter said reflecting on the achievements of his pal Justin Rose at the US Open, the Lions in Australia, Andy Murray and Chris Froome.
“I was very proud to see Justin win that,” Poulter said. "It certainly spurred a lot of us guys to think we can do exactly the same.” But this time, Poulter and Westwood, and British golf, came up just short.
Oh well, there’s always the Ashes.