Poulter seals Masters spot with dramatic triumph
Holing a clutch 20-footer for birdie, fist pumping, beating his chest, even using the same putter he did six years ago – the 2018 Houston Open was like a throwback to the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ for Ian Poulter.
That 2012 Ryder Cup victory in Illinois where he inspired the most remarkable of European comebacks is undoubtedly the most iconic moment of the Englishman’s 23-year professional career but Sunday’s play-off triumph in Texas was arguably just as impressive.
A week ago, Poulter was erroneously told he had qualified for the upcoming Masters by reaching the quarter-finals of the WGC Matchplay before being informed ten minutes prior to teeing off that he actually needed to beat Kevin Kisner in the last eight to reach Augusta. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he lost 8&6 to the American. That meant the 42-year-old was drinking in the last-chance saloon, needing to triumph at the Houston Open when he had never before won a strokeplay event on American soil to secure the final place at the Masters – and a one-over opening round of 73 that left him tied for 123rd was an inauspicious start.
But in the wake of a recent decision to return to the putter he used for the ‘Miracle at Medinah’, Poulter carded a 64 and a 65 to be tied with Beau Hossler atop the leaderboard at 14-under heading into the final round.
He held a two-shot lead at the turn but four straight birdies from Hossler put the American on the verge of victory. However, when Hossler’s birdie putt at the 18th missed by millimetres, Poulter had a glimmer of hope which he seized upon – draining his own 20-footer for birdie to force a sudden death play-off and beat his chest in celebration.
Hossler then chipped into the water from a greenside bunker as the pair replayed the 18th, while Poulter calmly made par to seal victory and that all-important spot at Augusta, starting on Thursday.
Life in the old dog yet
Poulter was understandably emotional after his historic win, especially given the rollercoaster of last week at the Matchplay and the slow start he endured in Houston on Thursday. “I was a little warm under the collar,” Poulter said of wrongly being told he had qualified for the Masters before his match against Kisner a week ago. “Some people getting in my head space, which is never good."
“Then I was kind of forcing things in the first round in Houston, trying to force my way into the Masters. That didn't work – I had to rethink it, had to blow the cobwebs out Thursday night and reset and go again. I had packed my bags to leave on Friday night, and had a mental switch."
“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.”
Champion Golfer rounds into form
Jordan Spieth hasn’t won a tournament since last year’s Open Championship but the Champion Golfer of the Year is making significant strides with Augusta a matter of days away.
He was consistent in Houston and a six-under-par final round of 66 ensured he would finish in a tie for third, behind only Poulter and Hossler. It’s no secret that Spieth’s formerly metronomic putting has been the root of most of his problems over the past few months and although he left Houston with negative strokes gained in putting, the 24-year-old is content with what he is seeing.
“I’m very pleased to shoot six-under – it was goal accomplished for the week,” said Spieth. “I’ve made some big strides form my last couple of tournaments and I’m very excited for what next week holds. On and around the greens I’ve been looking for what’s off – why does it not look the same to me as in the past?"
“Here I had pressure putts where I trusted what I was working on from the beginning of the week, it still looked good to me and the ball started on line. That combination is how I get back to the putting I’m used to seeing.”