Sunday, September 30, 2012


As he strode up the 11th fairway, Ian Poulter turned to face the fans that were chanting his name. He cupped a hand to his ear, before beating his fist against his chest. How they roared. 
But if it was an attempt to energise the small pockets of Europeans that had followed his team across the Atlantic, it could also be read as a gesture to his captain. Look, he was saying. This is what I do. 
For most of the day, Poulter was the one tower of hope in Europe’s skyline of decay. Having scraped a narrow morning foursomes win against Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, in partnership with Justin Rose, he then teamed up with Rory McIlroy to pull off the unlikeliest of comebacks. 
As dusk fell over Medinah, Poulter and McIlroy won by one hole against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson, having been two down with six to play. Thanks to Poulter, the 2012 Ryder Cup is still alive, just.
The irony was that in many ways, yesterday was not one of his finest days in European colours. He was erratic off the tee, and lacked his usual touch with the wedge.
But in another sense, this was Poulter in his finest vintage. The 36 year-old’s true worth cannot be measured in pounds or points. It can be heard in the rumbling of a gallery, or glimpsed in his fearsome, bulging eyes, taut with emotion. 
Watch Poulter’s expression after he holes a crucial putt. It is not a look of elation, or relief, but of psychosis.
Match-play golf releases the Freddie Kruger in him. When he states, as he did earlier this week, that he wants to ‘kill’ an opponent, there is the faint suspicion he may not be exaggerating.
Most of the time, Poulter’s feverish aggression renders him deeply irritating as a person. This is, after all, a man who has a section on his personal website devoted solely to his collection of sports cars. 
But for one week every two years, he becomes a Continent’s hero: the fuel on which Team Europe runs, the conductor of its orchestra, a lightning rod for America’s scorn.
When his opponents pumped their fists, he pumped his harder. He withstood the jibes and the heckles. And unlike some of his team-mates who wilted in the Medinah crucible, he holed the crucial putts. 
At times, it was if he alone was shoring up the crumbling European edifice, like the admiral of a sinking battleship raging listlessly at the sea.
Hindsight can be a wonderful thing, but Jose Maria Olazabal’s decision to leave him out of the afternoon four-balls on Friday now looks increasingly misguided. 
In his absence, Europe conspicuously lacked a talisman, someone who could shake them out of a funk.
Nowhere was this more in evidence than on the first tee on Saturday morning.
Rarely can the opening shots have been played amid such a racket. Neither player waited for the noise to abate before addressing; indeed, both drives were played with the din at its most deafening. 
There will scarcely be a more electric moment all weekend.
“It was a special moment,” Poulter said. “My heart rate went from 100 to 180 pretty quickly, but it was a great buzz for sure.”
Yet Simpson could still have squared the match on the final hole had he holed a six-foot birdie putt. Instead he missed, just as he had missed a number of short putts during his round. It was a victory that had the whiff of fortune to it, but one ultimately decided by the strength of the Poulter-Rose axis. When one slumped, the other raised his game to compensate.
Poulter and McIlroy formed a very different sort of partnership. For over two hours they appeared to be going through the motions: never out of contention, but never quite in contention either. 
That changed at the 13th, when McIlroy’s treacherous downhill birdie putt halved Europe’s deficit out of nothing. Enter Poulter, who holed consecutive birdie putts at 15, 16 and 17 to haul Europe ahead. The galleries may have been silenced, but the look on Poulter’s face said it all. The eyes had it.

















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