CASARES, Spain – Ian Poulter denied Luke Donald a coveted place at the top of the world rankings on Sunday, beating his fellow Englishman, 2 and 1, in a scrappy final of the World Match Play Championship to claim his first title of 2011.
Second-ranked Donald could have risen to No. 1 for the first time, supplanting compatriot Lee Westwood, if he’d won the tournament in Andalusia, but he failed to find the ruthless form that swept him to the final.
Poulter, who ousted Westwood in the last 16, was 1 down to his Ryder Cup teammate on three occasions in an error-strewn match. But a marvelous 45-foot putt won the 12th hole and further birdies on the 14th and 16th sealed a jaded Donald’s fate.
“I didn’t play my best but I played the right shots at the right times,” said Poulter, whose 14th career title will lift him from No. 22 to a place inside the top 15 when the new rankings are released Monday. “It’s a very special day.”
Poulter picked up a winner’s check for $1.14 million and became the first player to win both Match Play titles either side of the Atlantic – he won the Accenture version last year.
Donald won the 2011 edition of that tournament in Arizona in February and came into the final on a 14-match winning streak in match play, which included victories in singles and doubles matches at last year’s Ryder Cup.
But just like he did last month – when he lost a playoff to Brandt Snedeker at The Heritage in South Carolina – Donald missed an opportunity to climb to No. 1, acknowledging tiredness had caught up with him in southern Spain.
“I just ran out of steam a little bit,” said Donald, who made only one birdie against Poulter. “I really didn’t play well. I had some opportunities on the greens that I usually can do in my sleep. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth.”
Poulter, who beat Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts at the first playoff hole in the second semifinal earlier Sunday, had been taken to at least 18 holes in his previous five matches on the Finca Cortesin course this week.
Donald, on the other hand, had marched relentlessly to the final despite struggling with a throat infection, looking imperious in his overwhelming defeat of third-ranked Martin Kaymer in the semifinal.
“He’s playing like a machine,” Kaymer said after his, 5-and-3, thrashing.
Poulter went 1 down to Donald on the eighth when, after slicing his tee shot into the bushes at the side of the fairway, he slipped down a bank trying to thrash away his second shot.
“I think my clothes were more hurt than I was,” said Poulter. He lost his treasured ball-marker in that tumble and asked a match referee to find it as Poulter played the ninth.
He got up unscathed from his fall to promptly concede the hole, shared the next three and then rattled in the match-turning putt on the 12th green to draw level. Poulter ultimately proved too strong down the finish, with Donald limping home with four bogeys on his card.
Poulter played 108 holes this week, scrapping his way to a first tournament win since the Hong Kong Open last November. The match-play format certainly is to his liking.
“Can we have 20 match-play events a year, please?” Poulter quipped. “It gets the adrenalin going more, gets me going more than if you’re just out there making birdies and winning easy matches. I just love it. It’s nice to have a good tussle.
“It doesn’t have to be picture perfect. You just have to get the job done.”
Poulter won on the seventh birthday of his only son, Luke.
“That makes it even more special,” said Poulter, who will fly to England on Sunday with Luke ahead of the PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Donald heads for the same event, where he gets another chance to dethrone Westwood.
“It’s the least of my worries,” Donald said of the battle for the No. 1 spot. “It will come if I keep playing the way I am.”