PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- By his own admission, Ian Poulter is easily distracted, especially by shiny things. He bought a red Ferrari, and traded it for a white one. He saw a white Ford GT with blue racing stripes, and bought it; saw a blue Jaguar XFR, bought it. He couldn’t just own his own golf cart, like many in the Orlando golf course community of Lake Nona. He had to have a cart with the European Ryder Cup crest, and his name on it.
One distraction, though, nearly did him in: building his dream house.
“It was brutal from start to finish,” said Poulter, who one-putted nine straight greens and shot 65 to share the first-round lead at the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. “There were a lot of interesting hiccups along the way, but I'm glad to say they’re behind me, and we’re going to spend that first night there Sunday.”
Martin Laird was bogey-free in shooting 65 in the afternoon. They were one clear of winless Blake Adams, who birdied five straight holes and shot 66.
Playing in the morning, Tiger Woods shot a two-over 74 and was nine off the lead.
Rory McIlroy (72) and Phil Mickelson (71) played together in the afternoon.
With his legion of Twitter followers, a stable of luxury automobiles and his own clothing line, Poulter has always enjoyed the fruits of his success, but even he admits he bit off more than he could chew when he set out to build his custom dream home at Lake Nona. After hang-ups with contractors and subcontractors, and Poulter’s insistence that he be personally involved with every decision, the home has been under construction for two years and nine months. The project will end up taking twice as long, and costing twice as much, as Poulter anticipated, all of which partly explains how he plummeted to 115th on the money list in 2011.
“I’ve had too much going on in my mind,” he admitted at year’s end.
If Poulter sometimes seems like the English version of Masters champion Bubba Watson, who also collects expensive cars, there’s a good reason for it. Both of them have heard whispers about ADD, but neither has ever been officially diagnosed. Poulter has battled distractions all his life. Asked in a 2010 interview with Golf Magazine why he excelled at match play, particularly at the Ryder Cup, and not stroke play, he didn’t hesitate to give an answer.
“A concentration problem,” he said. “It’s why I sometimes don’t perform.”
In the same interview, Poulter said he’d read just one book, a biography on Muhammad Ali, and he endeavored to read that only because he knew he’d be sitting on a beach during his honeymoon. (He loved the book, by the way.)
“The reason I never read books, and you can ask my old English teacher, is because I can’t remember what happened five pages before,” Poulter said.
Sawgrass, though, is a riveting read, visually intimidating and ruthlessly penal, and it keeps Poulter’s attention like few other stroke-play venues. After missing the cut at the 2010 Players, and finishing T57 last year, he’s back to the form he showed while finishing second to Henrik Stenson in 2009.
Buoyed by the imminent completion of his house, and/or the surroundings of Sawgrass, Poulter nearly holed his second shot for eagle on the short, par-4 fourth hole, hit 11 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens, and took 10 putts while carding a back-nine 31.
“I feel like I'm back to normal,” he said.
Sawgrass played softer for the morning wave of players, with little wind, but the breeze came up a bit in the afternoon, leading to the kind of wipe-outs fans expect to see on a course with water on all but five holes. Angel Cabrera hit three balls in the water and made a 9 on the par-3 17th hole, signed for a 78 and withdrew for “personal reasons.”
Korean rookie Sung Kang made a quadruple-bogey 8 on the first hole, but came roaring back with an eagle at the par-5 second. Gary Woodland (77) was doing okay until he went double-bogey, triple-bogey on 13 and 14.
Woods bogeyed his first hole, the par-4 10th, was never under par, and hit seven of 14 fairways and nine of 18 greens. That left him tied for 100th with playing partner Hunter Mahan and a host of others. Rickie Fowler, the third man in the group, shot even-par 72.
“It was frustrating in the sense that my good shots ended up in bad spots,” Woods said, “and obviously my bad shots ended up in worse spots.”
The par-5 ninth hole, Woods’s last of the day, only added to his frustration. Woods hooked his drive into the gallery, and from the rough hooked his second shot into the front left bunker, from which he had to pitch out sideways. He pitched up to just under six feet below the hole, and made the putt for par and 74.
“I didn’t get a lot out of that round,” Woods said.
Even Poulter said he could have shot a few strokes better. That’s golf. There are still three days left, three days for Poulter to fight the brute that is Sawgrass, a course he calls “a proper test of golf.” He’ll probably see some wind. He hasn’t won on Tour since the 2010 WGC-Accenture Match Play, but he’s coming off a career-best seventh at the Masters, and was third at Bay Hill before that.
A win here is worth $1.7 million; Poulter could buy a lot of shiny things with such a haul.
“Ferrari Enzo,” he said when asked what might be next.
He’s fine for houses.