Poulter relishes the role of Ryder Cup hero, villain

By Randall MellSeptember 25, 2014, 2:36 pm

GLENEAGLES, Scotland – His transformation can be unnerving when he’s mustering all of his powers in a Ryder Cup match.

Ian Poulter’s eyes get scary large, like some cartoon artist drew them up. They swell like saucer plates in an apparent struggle to contain some giant, wild spirit from bursting out. He stomps around greens when putts fall, roaring and throwing fist pumps like a man possessed.

Poulter was asked Thursday if he thinks he’s scary when he sees highlights of his great Ryder Cup triumphs.

“Yes, very scary,” Poulter quipped.

His four young children barely recognize daddy when his Ryder Cup alter ego takes over.

“I think they’re scared,” Poulter says.

Poulter enters Friday’s 40th staging of the Ryder Cup as a vital figure in Europe’s attempt to win these matches for the sixth time in the last seven tries. He is a force the Americans are focused on containing. U.S. captain Tom Watson made that clear shortly after arriving at Gleneagles this week.

“Whenever you beat the stud on the opposing team, that gives your team a boost, not a question,” Watson said.

Rory McIlroy is unquestionably one of Europe’s studs, with his world No. 1 ranking and his two major championship victories this year, but Poulter is the heart and soul of the European team. He has helped the Euros win three of the four Ryder Cups he has played. He carries a staggering 12-3 record. He was 4-0 leading the Euros in their epic comeback at Medinah two years ago and has won seven consecutive Ryder Cup matches, 11 of his last 12.

“Ian, with his record, is an 80 percent victor over the series of matches he has played in,” Watson said. “We would like to reduce that.”

Poulter hears respect in that.

“I take Tom Watson's comment as a huge compliment,” Poulter said.

Poulter almost certainly hears a challenge, too. He showed at Medinah what feistiness he can muster when a great sportsman challenges him. Seeing how important Poulter was to the European team at Medinah, NBA great Michael Jordan took it upon himself as an “honorary member” of the U.S. team to try to get Poulter off his game. In a late Saturday afternoon match, Jordan poked his finger in Poulter’s chest coming off a green on the back nine, wagged his finger at him and stared him down.

“Ian is a strong character,” Jordan said in an NBC Road to the Ryder Cup series. “When I poked him, he responded. He birdied 13 and 14.”

Poulter, teaming with McIlroy in a fourball match, made five consecutive birdies to help defeat the American team of Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner. The Euros were down 10-4 overall in the team match, but that late electric run would help the Euros narrow the deficit and spark them to their historic Sunday singles comeback.

What was Poulter thinking after Jordan got in his face?

“I said, ‘Screw you, I’m’ going to hole this putt,’ I’m not allowing him to get in my space,” Poulter said. “He was playing his basketball game, and it was my court.”

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The story is part of Poulter’s growing Ryder Cup legend now.

As a player outside the Ryder Cup, Poulter, 38, hasn’t been able to conjure the same aura of invincibility. He has won 12 European Tour titles and two PGA Tour victories, but he has never won a major.

What is it about the Ryder Cup that makes Poulter so formidable?

“I'm very proud of my record and proud that I've put a lot of blue on the board,” Poulter said. “I'm passionate as a team player ...

“There are players on the team that get very pumped up. I'm obviously one of those guys, and I'm happy to help. I loved my football as a kid, and I'm kind of reliving those football moments as a golfer now. I think I played football back in the day like I play golf right now.”

Poulter takes a target on his back into these matches because defeating him early potentially brings more than a point to the Americans. Beating Poulter early potentially takes some of the spirit out of the Euros as a whole. Taking Poulter’s intensity down, putting a pout on his face, resonates beyond a point.

“If you’re as successful in Ryder Cups as Ian Poulter is, you’re going to be a targeted man,” European captain Paul McGinley said. “I think Ian Poulter is relishing that. He likes playing the villain. He was the villain in America in Medinah. He was the guy they all wanted to bring down, and he went out and produced.”

With Poulter enduring an off year, Americans should be licking their chops over a chance to take some swagger out of Poulter’s gait.

In 16 PGA Tour starts this year, Poulter has one top-10 finish, a tie for sixth at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. He has one top-10 finish on the European Tour this season, a tie for fifth at the Volvo China Open.

Going into the Ryder Cup at Medinah, Poulter was coming off a summer where he tied for ninth at the British Open and tied for third at the PGA Championship.

“Every Ryder Cup you question is Ian Poulter going to perform, and he does,” McGinley said. “His record is sensational, and he's very proud of it, and he's motivated this week, obviously. It's not something we are afraid of.”

Poulter is likely to end up paired with Justin Rose, but he would be a fit with just about anybody. Poulter and Rose have been together in all three practice rounds this week. They teamed twice in foursomes at Medinah and won both times.

“I’m ready,” Poulter said. “I’ve been ready for a few weeks now ... I feel the game is coming on nicely the last couple weeks, and I feel confident that we are going to go out there and play very well.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

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First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.