HONG KONG – Ian Poulter held off a spirited challenge from Italian youngster Matteo Manassero to win the Hong Kong Open by one stroke Sunday, returning to the top 10 in the world rankings.
The 17-year-old Manassero shot an 8-under 62 at the Fanling course and finished at 21-under 259, but Poulter’s 67 was enough to secure his 10th win on the European Tour.
“I felt comfortable the whole day, the way I was hitting it,” Poulter said. “I was hitting it inside 12 feet at pretty much nearly every hole out there and I knew if I kept doing that I would be very tough to beat.”
Simon Dyson tied Manassero for second after a 65, while American Anthony Kang finished fourth, a stroke further back.
Poulter, who had said in early 2008 that when he reached his full potential he was the only golfer who could challenge Tiger Woods atop the rankings, refrained from making anymore predictions.
With Lee Westwood having taken over from Woods as No. 1, Poulter was decidedly more low-key about his own prospects.
“I’m not going to play the game of saying I’m going to get to No. 1,” he said. “I tried that once before and it didn’t work, so I think I’ll just try and win next week and see how high I go. Tiger’s dropped a lot of points, Westwood’s the world No. 1 and if I keep playing well, then who knows, I could get up there.”
Poulter led Graeme McDowell by two shots heading into the final round, but the U.S. Open champion’s challenge was all but over by the third hole after a pair of bogeys. He finished fifth at 20 under after closing with a 68.
Still, McDowell reduced his deficit to European money leader Martin Kaymer to $293,000 ahead of next week’s season-ending Dubai World Championship.
“I’m within touching distance now of next week,” McDowell said. “I’ve got to play well next week, simple as that. Martin, I can’t control his ball, I can only control mine. I’m going to go in there next week and try to play my own game.”
Rory McIlroy, who was runner-up in this tournament in 2008 and 2009, had a final-round 67 to finish sixth.
The main threat to Poulter looked like it would come from fellow Englishman Dyson, who eagled the par-5 third hole and had birdies at the fourth, sixth and seventh to move to the top of the leader board.
A bogey at the eighth, however, stalled his progress before Poulter reignited his charge, eagling the 13th after shooting a 32 on the front nine.
Not even a bogey at the last – only his second of the tournament – could deny the 34-year-old Poulter as he won his second European Tour event of the season.
Manassero, meanwhile, was consistently picking up shots and, after four birdies in the first 12 holes, an eagle at the 13th and another pair of birdies over the closing three holes, secured a share of second.