Wielding the same putter he used to help inspire Europe’s improbable comeback at the 2012 Ryder Cup, Ian Poulter won the Houston Open in dramatic fashion – and in doing so, snatched the last place in the field for this week’s Masters.
The 42-year-old Englishman saw off American prospect Beau Hossler at the first hole of a sudden-death play-off to seal his third PGA Tour title.
After converting a lengthy birdie putt at the 72nd hole to force the event into extra holes, Poulter then maintained his composure as Hossler’s deserted him.
The 23-year-old first found sand, then water at the first play-off hole, effectively handing victory to a delighted – and relieved – Poulter, who two-putted for par and the win.
The win ensures Poulter will be playing at Augusta National this week as opposed to commentating for Sky Sports, as would otherwise have been the case.
It also comes just over a week on from a bizarre sequence of events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship. Poulter was told that, by reaching the tournament’s quarter-finals, he had done enough to qualify for The Masters, only to be told informed minutes before taking on Kevin Kisner that he would have to reach the semis instead. Ultimately, he lost 8&6 to the American.
“It's been a roller-coaster ride, I'll be honest with you,” said Poulter. “Coming in a little frustrated after last week, but knowing my game's in form.
“I said to Paul Dunkley, my agent, and James and Terry, my caddies, I said, ‘Look, I'm unsure whether to come or not, I need to get some rest Monday, Tuesday’. I was exhausted from last week but, obviously, Tuesday morning I made the decision to play.
“It was a good decision to come here this week, to be aggressive right from the start to try and force my way in.”
Whilst The Masters is the biggest immediate reward, Poulter can also look forward to a host of other perks for winning in Texas – not least the significant boost the victory will have given his Ryder Cup prospects.
“The win just doesn't mean getting into Augusta,” he acknowledged. “There's a lot bigger things on the horizon. It's been a long road the last couple years with injury, questioning whether I've got a PGA TOUR card or not, and then obviously having some form and not quite finishing off in the past.
“So, to get my first strokeplay victory [in the US] is a big one, to get the exemption is a big one, to move up in the world ranking points is a big one, to tell [European Ryder Cup captain] Thomas Bjorn, ‘Hey, I'm here, my game's in shape’. So, there were lots of motivations to come here this week to play well and I'm obviously extremely pleased to have got the victory.”
Reflecting on his struggles with form and injury in recent years, Poulter added: “When you're down, when you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, when everything seems to be kind of going wrong, it's hard. It gets you down.
“But it's not the first time I've kind of gone through some roller-coasters. That's as low as I've ever been. That's as far down the world rankings as I've been. Questioning whether you've got a card or not isn't very good. It's not very good for your mental strength, it's not very good for your psyche.
“But the journey continues. I've had 19 good years on tour and I guess I've got another couple coming, so there's life in the old dog yet.”
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