Monday, February 22, 2010
Ian Poulter captured the biggest victory of his career on Sunday by leading the final 28 holes to beat Paul Casey, 4 and 2, in an all-England final at the Match Play Championship.
Along with winning his first World Golf Championship, the 34-year-old Poulter won for the first time on American soil.
"It's been a long time coming," Poulter said, after closing out Casey with a par on the 34th hole. "I knew I was in great form. I felt comfortable all day on the golf course."
Casey made sure Poulter didn't work up too much of a sweat. He struggled at times with his swing in falling behind, and his short game wasn't good enough to allow him to catch up.
Casey became the first player to lose consecutive years in the championship match.
"Poulter played great," Casey said. "There were a lot of shots which I wanted to pull off and I didn't. He did a fantastic job of making putts and keeping the ball in play, and he kept the pressure on. And I got beaten."
Poulter won for the ninth time on the European Tour and moved to a career-best No. 5 in the world rankings. He earned $1.4 million, the biggest prize of his career.
Known mostly for what's in his closet, Poulter quickly is gaining a strong reputation for his prowess in match play. He improved his overall record in the Match Play Championship to 18-7, and was so dominant over the weekend that he trailed for only one hole over the final 50 holes of the tournament.
That came early Sunday morning, when Casey put his approach shot to 7 feet on the second hole for an eagle that was conceded. Poulter answered immediately with a tee shot into 8 feet on the third, then took the lead for good at No. 7 when Casey went long and took two chips to reach the green, making bogey.
Casey, who earned $850,000 for his runner-up finish, had the momentum at lunch after winning two of the last four holes to cut Poulter's lead in half to 2 up at the midway point. That didn't last long, however, for Poulter opened the afternoon session by winning two straight holes with birdies to restore his lead to 4 up.
Casey tried to make one more charge, winning the ninth hole with a par and the 10th with a 15-foot birdie. Poulter had a 2-up lead with eight holes remaining, momentum on Casey's side.
But Casey couldn't make up any ground on the par 5s, and Poulter seized control for good on the 307-yard 15th, where both players drove to the right of the green. Poulter nearly holed his chip for eagle, while Casey pitched just onto the green, and his birdie putt to halve the hole caught the lip.
Casey had to return early Sunday morning just to reach the final.
Resuming his semifinal match that had been suspended by darkness, Casey won with a par after Colombia's Camilo Villegas hooked his tee shot into the desert. Casey won in 24 holes, the longest match of the week.
Villegas missed a 3-foot par putt Saturday evening that would have put him in the final match. His tee shot Sunday morning was so bad that he let the driver out of his hand, and it bounced into a cactus bush. Even so, his attitude never wavered, and he bounced back in the consolation match to beat Spaniard Sergio Garcia 5 and 4.
Not only was the championship match between a pair of Englishmen, both were captain's picks by Nick Faldo for the 2008 Ryder Cup. Poulter went 4-1 at Valhalla, even though Europe lost the cup. The victory moves Poulter to No. 2 on the world points list for Europe, and atop the money points list.
He did all the right things in match play, mostly with his chipping and putting.
"I would say my short game, certainly this week, has been as good as it's ever been," Poulter said. "The last 12 months, it's been up there with the best of them."
Five times after Casey won a hole, Poulter won the next one. Late in the match as he was clinging to a 2-up lead with momentum still on Casey's side, Poulter flew the green on the par-3 12th, leaving him a tough chip up the slope. He came within inches of holing it, keeping his cushion, until he effectively put the match away at the 15th with another tough pitch, with mud on his ball, up a steep slope to the green.
"That's one of the nicest shots I've played in a while," Poulter said.
The timing couldn't have been better. A short time later, Poulter was beaming as he posed with the "Walter Hagen Cup," the name of this WGC trophy.
Hagen, along with his 11 majors, was known for his snappy attire.