Houston: Ian Poulter resurrected his stagnant career by winning the Houston Open in a play-off on Sunday, the victory coming with an added bonus of earning the final invitation to the US Masters and throwing his hat into the ring for Europe’s Ryder Cup team.
Poulter was always heading to Augusta to work on the tournament for British television, but the 42-year-old Englishman will now be inside the ropes instead when the first major championship of the year starts on Thursday.
“There’s life in the old dog yet,” Poulter said after beating American Beau Hossler on the first hole of a sudden-death play-off at Golf Club of Houston.
Poulter, without a win since 2012, arrived in Houston needing nothing less than victory to qualify for the Masters after missing out by a whisker when he found himself 51st in the world rankings last week.
The top 50 at last Monday’s cut off earned exemption to Augusta and Poulter was so dejected after being initially misinformed he was in the Masters field that he considered skipping Houston.
“Tuesday morning I made the decision to come and play. It was a good decision,” he added. “The win doesn’t just mean getting to Augusta. There’s a lot bigger things on the horizon.” Such as, hopefully, the Ryder Cup in France this autumn. Poulter, a five-times European team member, said his win would tell captain Thomas Bjorn: “Hey, I’m here, my game is in good shape.”
But more immediately is the Masters, to which Poulter will go after returning to his Orlando, Florida home for a brief reunion with his family.
“I need to unpack, have some chocolate with the kids tonight and repack for Augusta,” he said.
The stars aligned for Poulter at the final hole in regulation play on Sunday, when Hossler grazed the hole with a birdie attempt that would have clinched victory.
“He thought he had holed it. I thought he holed it,” said Poulter, whose 20-foot birdie putt was on a similar line.
Using the same putter he wielded so effectively to lead Europe to victory in the 2012 Ryder Cup, he came through in the clutch yet again to force the playoff.
“I hit a great putt, good read and it obviously was very helpful seeing his putt,” Poulter added.
He punched his chest with his right fist five times in excitement after matching Hossler’s 67 after the pair tied at 19-under-par 269, three shots clear of Jordan Spieth and Emiliano Grillo.
Hossler then handed Poulter the tournament at the first extra hole, the par-four 18th, where the American hit his third shot from a greenside bunker into a water hazard.
Poulter’s third victory on the PGA Tour followed previous wins at World Golf Championships events — the 2010 Match Play and the 2012 HSBC Champions in Shenzhen.
His chances of winning looked remote after he shot 73 on Thursday but rounds of 64, 65, 67 followed after he flicked what he described as a “mental switch”.
“Last week was painful,” Poulter said. “To come here this week, I was tired, frustrated on Thursday. I didn’t play my best stuff. I packed my bags to leave on Friday.”
Fellow Englishman Justin Rose is determined to make amends for last year’s near miss at the Masters with the 37-year-old reckoning he was probably destined to lose after a lot of success in tight finishes.
Rose came agonisingly close to winning for the first time at Augusta National 12 months ago before close friend Sergio Garcia pipped him to the title at the first extra hole following an intense final-round duel.
Defeat was a bitter pill to swallow but Rose reckons a heartache was always around the corner after defying pressure to win the two biggest titles of his career — the 2013 US Open and a Rio Olympic gold medal in 2016.
“It was really, really painful,” Rose said.
“You cannot be on leaderboards at big tournaments all the time and have things go your way all the time.
“So from my point of view, Olympic golf, US Open at Merion, those kind of moments had gone my way up until then. This was the first time it had gone against me and I know Sergio had suffered that many times. So it was just his time.” Rose is one of the favourites to win the first major of the year, which begins on Thursday, and he would not downplay his chances.
He has surged up to fifth in the world rankings on the back of three titles in his past 11 events and racked up a staggering run of consistency. Before Sunday’s tied-52 finish at the Houston Open, Rose had posted 13 top-10 finished in 15 starts.
When asked if experiences of a year ago make him more or less likely before his career ends, he replied: “More likely, definitely.
“Look at how the runners-up have done in recent years. Adam Scott finished runner-up and went on to win. Jordan Spieth was runner-up the year before he won.
“When I go to Augusta I feel so good there. It hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for being there. I really love the place.”