AUGUSTA, Ga. – Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood will set out Saturday afternoon with the weight of a nation on their shoulders and the mass of a maiden major weighing heavily on oft-jilted psyches. But the real action will come with the side bets.
That the battle for low Englishman comes just four days after the duo’s last duel, one would expect payment in full by sundown and in pounds, not green jackets or greenbacks.
Poulter and Westwood are tied atop the year’s first major at 8 under par, two clear of the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim. But all that is window dressing to the real action, a rematch from a Tuesday practice round that was over before it started.
“It will be nice to get some (money) back,” said Poulter, who was first in the house with a 68 and still stinging from his earlier loss to Westwood. “We played nine holes and I paid him on 7.”
“He would remember that,” panned Westwood, who rebounded from a double bogey-6 at the 14th hole for a 69. “Every pound is a prisoner to him. I offered him a press but he wouldn’t take it.”
The green jackets held an invitational and an English best-ball has broken out, or so it seems. The Fab Four sans Ringo and that other guy.
At the intermission, the two friends and practice-round foes may be fixated on a rematch, but the rest of England is waiting for the Masters drought to end. It has been 14 springs since an Englishman slipped on a green jacket and, even as good as Westwood is playing, two shots to give is hardly reason to exhale.
Westwood is a near miss this week away from the “Show Slam,” third place in all four majors already wrapped up at last year’s PGA Championship and British Open and the 2008 U.S. Open, when he played his historic final round paired with Woods.
Contrary to popular claptrap near-miss slams hurt, and Westwood has been burnt more times than the entrée at Angel Cabrera’s champion’s dinner.
“It's the only thing really missing in my career, I've won everywhere around the world and money lists and here in the States,” Westwood said. “Obviously it would mean a lot to win a major championship. I've come close over the last couple of years . . . I know I've got the game and I know I've got the temperament. It's just going that one step further and finishing it off.”
As for Poulter, the Masters is a chance to continue his climb to the top of the golf world. After winning the WGC-Match Play Championship this year the colorful one turned his attention to Augusta National, taking the last two weeks off with a single-minded focus.
“I’m fresh, I’m ready to go. I rested and practiced for two weeks and that really helped,” Poulter said.
No. 2 – as Poulter is jokingly called, a reference to a magazine article in which he reasoned when he’s playing his best there is Woods and him atop the competitive landscape – is now No. 1. Whether he and Westwood remain there through Sunday remains to be seen. Before that, however, the two have a personal score to settle.
Welcome to the English Two-Ball.