It's intense, it's very intense, it's the 'Poults' show
DAY TWO ROUND-UP:YOU GEL up the hair, pop out the eyes and put a hot putter in his hands. What do you get? A man with the weight of a continent on his shoulders! On Saturday at Medinah, Europe’s quest for such a character turned out to be a certain Mr Ian James Poulter, who almost single-handedly managed to give his team a lifeline in this 39th Ryder Cup match.
As a light aircraft puffed out its cloudy messages of support to Europe in the Illinois skies, using the name of “SEVE” to invoke some passion into those on terra firma, Poulter – more than anyone – picked up the mantle and took the game to the USA. Just as it seemed as if Europe’s cause was slipping, Poulter – in partnership with Rory McIlroy – salvaged some hope with a one-hole win over Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.
If the manner of it left the Americans shell-shocked, it brought rare euphoria to a European team who had been outclassed for much of the day’s play. The morning foursomes had gone to the USA (by a 3-1 margin to establish an 8-4 lead) and only late, late wins by Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald (over Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker) and, then, Poulter’s heroics in the bottom fourballs gave Europe a stay of execution.
Poulter was quite remarkable, a man inspired. The Englishman closed with five successive birdies, from the 14th, to close the deal. “What he did was just outstanding, amazing. The way he played those last few holes, making those clutch putts, it is the expression of the Ryder Cup,” said European captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
Did it remind him of anyone? “Well, there is one that is not here with us anymore. I’m pretty sure that he looks down on us, he must have been proud of what he saw,” replied Olzabal, in evoking the spirit of Ballesteros.
Then, Olazabal related a story about Poulter. It involved meeting him in the locker-room at Celtic Manor on the Monday morning of the extended 2010 Ryder Cup. One by one, the players left the team-room and Olazabal, as is his way, hugged them in turn. Molinari. Jimenez. And, then, Poulter emerged. His eyes were bulging. “I looked straight at him in the eyes with the intention of saying a few words and then I looked at his face, at his eyes (again), and said, ‘okay, you’re ready to go’. He looked at me and said, ‘yes, and I guarantee you a point’. That’s Poulter at the Ryder Cup.”
Poulter delivered in some style, the swashbuckling birdies giving Europe some momentum for the first time to carry on with them into yesterday’s final singles.
Giving credit where it was due, McIlroy – who had ignited the flames after providing the spark with a birdie on the 13th that prompted all the heroics from Poulter – quipped: “I could have just walked into the clubhouse, it was the Poults show . . . and it was just a joy to watch.”
And of those Poulter eyes, McIlroy said: “It’s intense, it’s very intense. He just gets that look in his eye, especially when he makes one of those big putts, and he’s fist-pumping, and he’ll just look right through you. It’s just great to see, great to see the enthusiasm and the passion that he has for this event, like all of us do.”
Poulter’s biggest career wins have come in matchplay, in the 2010 WGC-Accenture and the 2011 Volvo World Matchplay. What is it about the format that gets his juices flowing? “I surprise myself. I mean, matchplay, I love the fight of it. You get to stare your opponent straight in the face and sometimes that’s what you need to do. The Ryder Cup, as I’ve said it so many times, means an awful lot to every one of us. You know, there’s a lot of passion in that team room, and there’s reasons why we want to keep that trophy as long as possible. This event is just so big to every one of us, and we love it. I love it.”