Poulter defeats Casey in Match Play finale

By Doug FergusonFebruary 22, 2010, 4:04 am
2007- WGC-AccentureMARANA, Ariz. –  Despite eight European Tour victories and a 5-2 record in two Ryder Cup appearances, mention Ian Poulter to the casual golf fan and the conversation would start with his wardrobe.

The Union Jack trousers he once wore at a major. Colors that are found in a bag of Skittles. When he wore a bright aqua shade earlier this week at the Match Play Championship, he made sure half of his shoes were the same color, along with the print on his sponsor logos.

The highlight of every evening is ironing his clothes, most of which he designs.

Ian Poulter
Ian Poulter reacts to his first PGA Tour victory. (Getty Images)

“For me it’s a business, and one that I’m very passionate about,” Poulter said. “And I take pride and care on how I present myself on the golf course. And a lot of people haven’t really seen it that way over the last few years.”

That might be about to change.

Dressed in a soft pink outfit for a chilly day in the high desert, Poulter collected the biggest win of his career Sunday in the Match Play Championship. With a stellar short game and unusual calm, he led over the final 28 holes and beat Paul Casey, 4 and 2.

It was an all-England final in the first World Golf Championship of the year, yet among the most significant achievements for Poulter was winning for the first time on American soil.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Poulter said. “Five or six years of hard work, coming over to change my residency, to be living in America, to finally win over here … it means everything. And it’s just so pleasing to be able to finally say now I’m a winner on the PGA Tour.”

Casey already is a PGA Tour winner – he won the Houston Open last year – but Match Play is becoming a burden. He became the first player in the 12-year history of his tournament to lose consecutive years in the championship matches.

He didn’t have much of a chance either time.

A year ago, Geoff Ogilvy built a 3-up lead after the morning 18 holes on his way to a 4-and-3 victory. Poulter seized command on the back nine of the morning session by winning three holes in a four-hole stretch, then settled for a 2-up lead at the turn.

Momentum was on Casey’s side at lunch. The start of the second 18 didn’t taste so well.

Poulter birdied the first two holes to go 4 up, and while Casey cut that lead in half with eight holes to play, he never got closer. The last good chance appeared to come at the 15th, when both drove into a collection area right of the green on the 307-yard hole, with Poulter facing the more difficult shot. He had to go straight up a steep slope with about 15 feet of green. And he had mud on his ball.

“I had to hit that shot absolutely perfect,” Poulter said. “And I didn’t actually see what happened, but it finished a couple of inches from the hole. It was perfect. That’s one of the nicest shots I’ve played in a while.”

That put him 3 up with three to play, and Poulter closed out Casey with a par on the 16th.

Casey could have attributed his play to fatigue. Before he reached the final, he had to finish his semifinal match against Camilo Villegas early Sunday morning. Villegas hooked his opening tee shot into the desert, and Casey won with a par to win in 24 holes.

Villegas, equipped with a new attitude to not be so hard on himself, rebounded to whip Sergio Garcia in the consolation match, 5 and 4.

Casey spent ample time talking about shots that didn’t go where he was aiming, which usually is a problem in golf. Perhaps the most damaging came at the par-5 13th, when he had a 7-iron to the green for his second shot and missed it badly.

But he knew the biggest reason he lost.

“Ian played great stuff,” Casey said. “He did what he needed to do today. I think he kept it in play on every single hole, which is pretty impressive around here, and made a lot of clutch putts He’s putting very, very well.”

Poulter gave credit to a new lob wedge with a little more bounce to help the ball come out a little higher, one of the adjustments he has made for new grooves. It helped him on delicate shots, such as behind the 13th green in the morning session, behind the 12th green in the afternoon, and the sensational wedge on the 15th that effectively gave him the tournament and the $1.4 million prize.

“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.”

Perhaps it was only fitting that he posed with a WGC trophy named the “Walter Hagen Cup.”

Hagen, among golf’s greatest players with 11 majors, was regarded as much for his snappy attire as his record four straight PGA Championships when they were match play.

The Haig would have liked this spunky Englishman.

“Are you saying I’m a snappy dresser?” Poulter asked with a grin.

That’s a matter of taste. As for his short game? It had no match at Dove Mountain.

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Stenson leads strong cast of Bay Hill contenders

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 11:38 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Henrik Stenson has a tortured history here at Bay Hill, a collection of close calls that have tested his mettle and certainly his patience.

Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational won’t get any easier. Not with a course that is already firm and fast and fiery, just the way the King would have wanted it. And not with 13 players within five shots of the lead, a group that includes Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and, yes, even Tiger Woods.

Without his best stuff Saturday, Stenson still managed to edge ahead of Bryson DeChambeau to take a one-shot lead heading into the final round. It’s familiar territory for the Swede, who posted four consecutive top-10s here from 2013-16, including a few agonizing near-misses.

Three years ago, Stenson appeared on his way to victory when he was put on the clock on the 15th hole. Rattled, he three-putted the next two holes and lost by a stroke. The following year, he was tied for the lead with three holes to play, then hit it in the water on 16 and bogeyed two of the last three holes.

“It wouldn’t be the only tournament where you feel like you’ve got some unfinished business,” Stenson said, “but I’ve been up in the mix a few times and we’re here again, so of course I would like to see a different outcome.”

What will be interesting Sunday is whether history repeats itself.

Neither Stenson nor DeChambeau is quick-paced, with DeChambeau even acknowledging that he’s one of the game’s most methodical players, stepping off pitch shots and checking (and re-checking) his reads on the green. With so much at stake, it’s not a stretch to imagine both players grinding to a halt on a course that got “crusty” in the late-afternoon sun.

“We’ve got a lot of guys behind me,” DeChambeau said, “so I’ve got to go deep tomorrow.”

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The 24-year-old earned his breakthrough victory last July at the John Deere Classic, but that was one hot week as he tried to play his way out of a slump.

Even this week’s performance was unexpected, after he withdrew from the Valspar Championship because of a balky back.

Last weekend he underwent an MRI (clean), didn’t touch a club for three days and showed up here cautiously optimistic. His ball-striking hasn’t suffered at all – in fact, he’s ranked fifth in strokes gained-tee to green – and now he’s relishing the chance to take on some of the game’s biggest names.

“Whatever happens,” he said, “it’s going to be a great learning experience.”

Of the 13 players within five shots of the lead, 10 are Tour winners. That includes McIlroy, whose putter has finally come alive, and Rose, who shot a third-round 67 to move within three shots, and Fowler, whose game is finally rounding into form, and also Woods, who has won a record eight times at Bay Hill. 

Even if he doesn’t pick up a pre-Masters victory – he’s five shots back, the same deficit he erased here in 2009 – Woods has showed flashes of his old self at one of his favorite playgrounds, whether it’s the blistered 2-irons off the tee, the daring approach shots or the drained 40-footers.

“I’ve got a chance,” he said.

And so do the rest of the major champions and PGA Tour winners assembled near the top of the leaderboard.

It should be a wild final round at Arnie’s Place – even if Stenson, for once, is hoping for a drama-free Sunday.

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DeChambeau uses big words to describe back injury

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 11:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Bryson DeChambeau needed just 30 seconds of explaining the state of his lower back to send the media center at the Arnold Palmer Invitational spinning.

DeChambeau shot an even-par 72 in the third round at Bay Hill, and he will start the final round one shot behind Henrik Stenson as he looks to win for the second time in his young PGA Tour career. DeChambeau’s strong play this week comes in the wake of his decision to withdraw from last week’s Valspar Championship because of a bad back.

DeChambeau is no stranger to new vocabulary words or adopting a scientific take on matters, and it was when he delved into the details of his injury that things got interesting.

“It was because my quadratus lumborum wasn’t working. My iliacus, longissimus thoracis, they were all kind of over-working if you want to get technical on that,” DeChambeau said. “But they weren’t working very well, and I overworked them. Pretty much my lower right back was hurting and I rested it. How about that?”

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DeChambeau tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month, but he has struggled to find results in the weeks since. One of the keys to a quick recovery between Innisbrook and Bay Hill was some time on the couch this past weekend and a binge session of The Walking Dead on Netflix.

“I literally didn’t do anything, and that’s really the first time I’ve done that in my entire life. I’ve never actually taken three days off where I didn’t touch a club,” DeChambeau said. “So that was unique for me and actually took me some time to acclimate to that, my body to get comfortable to get in a rested state. And then once it was finally able to rest, it healed a little bit and I was able to make a run for it this week.”

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Woods fielding Masters practice-round requests

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 10:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Heading into what is likely his final competitive round before the Masters, Tiger Woods is starting to set up his schedule for the days leading into the season’s first major.

Woods has won the Masters four times, most recently in 2005, and in the wake of a runner-up at the Valspar Championship and a strong showing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational he’ll head down Magnolia Lane with more momentum than he’s had in years. As a result, it’s not surprising that he has received more than a few inquiries about a possible practice round at Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week.

“I’ve gotten a couple requests here and there,” Woods said with a grin after a third-round 69 at Bay Hill.

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Woods has played the Masters only once since 2014, but don’t expect him to try out some unfamiliar pairings on Tuesday and Wednesday amid the azaleas. Woods still plans to rely on a rotation he’s had for several years, playing with former champs Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara. O’Meara, who received his green jacket from Woods in 1998, plans to make this year his final Masters start.

“I traditionally have played with Freddie, if he can. We’re hoping he can come back and play again and play Augusta. I’ve played with Mark just about every single year,” Woods said. “It’s generally been those two guys, and those are the two guys I’ve grown up with out here on Tour. We sit next to each other actually at the champions’ dinner, and so we have known each other for a very long time.”

While Woods is no stranger to fielding offers for tips and advice from younger players, especially on a course he knows as well as Augusta National, one top-ranked name continues to stick out among the requests he’s received in recent weeks.

“Just the normal JT (Justin Thomas),” Woods said. “He’s always trying to get some practice rounds in.”

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Stenson one clear of loaded leaderboard at Bay Hill

By Nick MentaMarch 17, 2018, 10:10 pm

Four of the top 15 players in the world and two men with stellar amateur resumes will do battle Sunday to win Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here’s how things look through 54 holes at Bay Hill, where Tiger Woods sits five back at 7 under par.

Leaderboard: Henrik Stenson (-12), Bryson DeChambeau (-11), Rory McIlroy (-10), Justin Rose (-9), Ryan Moore (-9), Charley Hoffman (-8), Rickie Fowler (-8), Talor Gooch (-8), Ben An (-8)

What it means:  For the second straight day, Stenson (71) will go off in the final pairing with DeChambeau (72), after both players failed to separate themselves from the field in Round 3, shooting a combined 1 under. Stenson really should have a win at Bay Hill by now. He finished in the top-10 four years in a row from 2013-2016, with three top-5s. The closest he came to victory was in 2015, when he lost to Matt Every by one shot after being put on the clock and three-putting the 15th and 16th greens. If he’s finally going to close the deal Sunday, the world No. 15 will need to hold off challenges from three of the top 13 players in the OWGR – No. 5 Rose, No. 7 Fowler and No. 13 McIlroy – and two men who won both the NCAA individual championship and the U.S. Amateur – DeChambeau and Moore.

Round of the day: John Huh and Austin Cook both made the 1-over cut on the number and shot 66 Saturday to move into a tie for 18th at 5 under.

Best of the rest: McIlroy, Rose and Jason Day (-5) all signed for 67. McIlroy remains in search of his first worldwide win since he walked away from East Lake with the Tour Championship and the FedExCup in 2016.

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Biggest disappointment: Fowler was 11 under for the week but dropped three shots in his last two holes. He failed to get up and down from the front bunker at 17 and then had his ball almost fully bury in the lip of a greenside trap at 18. With only a small portion of the ball visible, Fowler took two to get out of the sand and two-putted his way to a double-bogey 6, dropping him to 2 under for the day and 8 under for the championship.

Shot of the day: Woods’ 210-yard 5-iron from the fairway bunker at the par-5 16th:

Quote of the day: "I'm going to have to shoot a low one tomorrow, and probably get a little bit of help. But my responsibility is to go out there and shoot a low one first." – Woods