Postman Poulter Delivers Unlikeliest of Wins to Book Augusta Place
YOU just couldn’t make it up. Ian Poulter holed a 25-foot on the 72nd green to force his way into a play at the Houston Open and then picked up the title and an invitation to The Masters when rookie Beau Hossler hit a greenside bunker shot into a lake at the first extra hole.
Both golfers finished on 19 under par after closing rounds of 67, producing a stunning display with huge stakes on the line for each man. Hossler was looking for his first win, while Poulter was seeking his first strokeplay victory on American soil and his first anywhere since 2012.
“I had to dig deep today,” said Poulter. “I was tired when I got here but decided to just go out there and play. I was patient all day and to win my first stroke play tournament on American soil with so much at stake is really special. This win is for Katie, my wife – she has been my rock. I was helped with the putt on the 18th in regulation play by getting a read from Beau. The past couple of years have been tough. I knew the good stuff was in there somewhere. It’s amazing to get this done today. I really wanted to win this week. I am drained right now but I will find the energy for next week."
So he only went and did it. When Poulter stormed away from Austin, Texas, in a huff last week having failed to make the field for The Masters, you wouldn’t have given him a prayer of finding the only other route to get him to Augusta, by winning the Houston Open.
He reached the quarter-finals of the WGC DELL Technologies Match Play and was told by the media that he had done enough to climb into the top 50 in the world rankings, which would have gained him automatic entry to Augusta. But just before he went out to play Kevin Kisner in the quarter-finals, he was informed that other results meant he now needed to win the match to lock down his spot. He played horribly and was thrashed 8&6, and later seemed to blame the media for misinforming him. Of course, it was actually nobody’s fault but his own. Had his golf been good enough, he would have been comfortably inside the top 50 and would have had no worries about whether or not he would be playing in the season’s first major.
He began the Houston Open with a dismal round of 73 and was tied for 123rd place. He admitted that when he returned to his hotel room on Thursday evening he was thinking about packing his case because he was certain that he would be heading home after missing the cut. Instead, he went out and shot a 64 and followed it with a flawless 65 to head into the final day tied for the lead with Hossler on 14 under par. Suddenly, his destiny was back in his own hands. If the winner of this tournament was not already qualified for Augusta then a victory would secure his place.
Poulter birdied the second hole with a glorious approach and added another at the par-five fourth when he put his third 12 inches from the hole. Suddenly, he was two ahead, with Georgia very much on his mind. But behind him, a host of world-class players were queueing up, holing putts from all the place. One of them was Ireland’s Paul Dunne, who collected two early birdies of his own to move to 14 under and trail Poulter by two. He was on the same mark as Jordan Spieth, who reached the turn in 32 courtesy of two birdies and an eagle.
Matt Kuchar joined the group on 14 under by covering the front nine in 33 blows.
Raise it up. ???? pic.twitter.com/56hSeUexcA— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 1, 2018
Poulter is a Marmite golfer. People either love him or they hate him, but nobody can deny that when his back is against the wall there is not a more determined character in the world of professional golf. The Englishman found something on the putting green before he began his second round and he has putted the lights out ever since. He says that he has simply opened his shoulders slightly and is suddenly seeing the line more clearly.
And so it continued at Houston. His third birdie of the day came after another fabulous approach to the 464-yard sixth hole. The ball finish six feet from the hole. The putt was a formality. Poulter was 17 under and three ahead of Kuchar, Dunne and playing partner Hossler. Spieth fell back to join the group at 13 under after a dreadful pitch at the 10th hole. That group included defending champion Russell Henley, who finished the week with a 65 courtesy of an outrageous birdie putt on the final green.
There is a lot of water on this course and Dunne’s chances of victory vanished when he found it twice at the eighth and walked off the green with an eight on his card.
Spieth moved back to 14 under when he birdied the 11th hole. By now the group on that score also included Henrik Stenson and Sam Ryder, a 28-year-old American with a glorious touch on and around the greens.
Massive Congrats @IanJamesPoulter on the W????????— Justin Rose (@JustinRose99) April 1, 2018
Poulter, meanwhile, continued his imperious progress with a birdie at the par-five eighth hole. He was briefly four ahead until Hossler followed him in with a birdie. Putter 18 under, Hossler 15 under. And Hossler was joined by Spieth when the Open champion picked up yet another birdie, this time at the 13th.
The Englishman hit a wonderful shot to the par-three ninth but it caught a downslope and ran almost 90 feet beyond the hole. This was his first real test of the day. He had gone 49 holes without a blemish on his card, but left his first putt eight feet from the hole. If he was going to win, this was a putt that he was probably going to have to make. He missed it and his lead was down to two. But he had played the front nine in 33. He began the day tied for the lead; now he was two ahead of Hossler, Spieth and Ryder.
Poulter bounced back with a birdie at the 11th and parred the 12th, by which time he was 18 under par and two in front of Hossler, who birdied the 12th, and Spieth, who picked up further shots at the 13th and 16th as his preparation for The Masters began to fall into place. Spieth has been struggling on the greens of late but his stroke was beginning to look rock solid once more. Ryder, Kuchar and Emiliano Grillo were next on 15 under par and with holes running out they all had their work cut out for them if they were to have any chance of denying Poulter his first stroke play success on American soil.
While most of those around him hit the ball prodigious distances, Poulter is one of the shorter hitters on the PGA Tour, but he has hardly missed a fairway this week. He struck two glorious shots to the par-five 13th, measuring almost 600 yards. His second finished just short of the green. It looked like a routine birdie but his pitch and run, which looked perfect, just kept on running and came to rest eight feet beyond the hole. Hossler was just outside him and rolled his in to move to 17 under par. Now the pressure was really on. Could Poulter follow him in and maintain his lead? When he missed, his lead over 23-year-old Hossler was down to a solitary shot.
Sports can evoke a wide range of emotions. ???? pic.twitter.com/9h9vBTCWFk— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 1, 2018
They say that tournaments don’t really get going until the back nine on Sunday and so it was turning out. There were five holes left. Would Poulter hold on? His tee shot at the 14th, a par three, found the green but once again he left himself a long way from the hole. This time he could not afford three putts, especially with Hossler also safely aboard the green, much closer to the hole. When they walked off the green they were level. Poulter managed to secure his par, but Hossler birdied a third successive hole to join his rival at the top of the leaderboard on 18 under.
Spieth finished on 16 under. He had a 66 that was concluded with a remarkable par. He drove into a bunker, came up short with his second, hit a poor pitch and then drained a 30-foot putt. “I hit a couple of great putts that didn’t go in,” he said. “I had a lot of chances and could have gone eight or nine under today. But I am pleased with what I have done here this week. Mission accomplished really. Today I trusted what I have been working on and that’s how I get back to what I am used to doing, especially on the greens."
Almost unnoticed, Grillo crept up the leaderboard. Birdies at the 10th, 12th, 13th and 15th saw him move to 17 under and, all of a sudden he was only one adrift. Like Poulter and Hossler, Grillo needed to win to get to Augusta. Unfortunately, he dropped a shot at the 18th to tie Spieth in third place.
Dunne is also due some credit. Despite that eight on his card he had managed to get back to one under par for the day by the time he walked off the 16th. He eventually finished in a tie for eighth.
Hossler is a rookie but you wouldn’t know it and he turned the screw on Poulter at the 15th when he hit his approach to two feet. Seconds later, Poulter chunked a routine chip and failed to make the green and now he was under pressure not to lose two shots on the young American. He rescued his par but Hossler made his fourth birdie on the spin and now it was Poulter who was doing the chasing.
It all came down to the 18th, which is one of the most difficult driving holes on the PGA Tour, with a huge lake on the right and bunkers lying in wait for anything that drifts right. Hossler found the bunker while Poulter nailed a magnificent drive that found the centre of the fairway and he hit the centre of the green with his second. Hossler followed him onto the green. So Poulter now had to hope that the youngster missed if he was to have any chance of forcing a playoff. Hossler parred the hole but, almost unbelievably, Poulter found the bottom of the hole for a birdie that took him to 19 under par and into a playoff.
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