MARANA, Ariz. (AP) – Ian Poulter obviously did a lot more than just fuss over his wardrobe and trendy apparel line during a long break before the Match Play Championship.
Making his first start since the season-opening Tournament of Champions, the flamboyant Englishman was as sharp as ever Friday in a second-round victory over Bo Van Pelt.
“Obviously, it was always risky from the outside looking in, when someone takes six weeks off and comes into this field,'' said Poulter, ever the dandy with reddish pink shoes that complemented his burgundy argyle ensemble. “I guess, unprepared is what some people would perceive it to be. I think I'm probably more prepared than I've ever been.
“The work I've done in the offseason – changing shafts in all my irons, knocking a 5-wood out of the bag and putting in an extra wedge in the gap that I had, picking up 4 mph of ball speed on the driver – I couldn't be any happier coming into this week.''
After winning the 2010 World Golf Championships event at Dove Mountain, Poulter lost his opening matches the last two years. The European Ryder Cup star ended the losing streak Thursday with a 2-and-1 victory over Scotland's Stephen Gallacher, then made seven birdies – the last conceded from 10 feet on the 17th hole – to knock off Van Pelt 3 and 1.
“I played the type of golf that's going to be tough to beat,'' Poulter said. “I had seven birdies, no bogeys, and when you play like that, then and you don't give your opponent anything, then obviously it's going to be a tough day for him. So I'm very pleased how I took some of the mistakes from yesterday away and kept it a very clean card.''
The closest thing to a bobble was a three-putt par through a maze of moguls and ridges that cost him the 15th hole.
“It was left to right, right to left, left to right, right to left, left to right with three stages of uphill in it,'' Poulter said. “I mean, 4 feet past the pin it goes off the back into the rough. I mean, I would think you'd see more three putts than two putts in that position. What was the pin, 33 yards on, something like that? So it was a 100-foot putt with 12 breaks and uphill, downhill, uphill, uphill, uphill. … That's the only mistake I made today. I three-putted there from 100 feet. Shucks.''
Poulter will play South Africa's Tim Clark in the third round Saturday morning. Clark advanced with a 3-and-2 victory over Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen.
“I wouldn't say I look forward to it any more than I do any of the majors or other WGCs,'' Poulter said. “Obviously, my record in match play is pretty good. You come here knowing that if you play six great matches, you're going to be in a really good position. I think it's an opportunity, certainly the way the draw is done, where if you get through a good chunk of matches, then obviously it potentially could be slightly easier to win a match-play event than what it might be a stroke play.''
STREAKING MAHAN: Defending champion Hunter Mahan ran his tournament winning streak to eight, beating South Africa's Richard Sterne 4 and 3.
“If you put the ball on the fairway and on the green here, it's going to be a lot easier to score,'' Mahan said. “Obviously, the desert and the bunkers and everything, they come into play pretty quickly, so it's important to know exactly where you're trying to hit it. I think I just feel comfortable on it. Just from the tees to the greens and everything, I feel like I just know where I need to hit it. I feel like I just have a good understanding of this place.
“Once you get on the greens, the greens are pretty difficult. They have a lot of slopes and a lot of variations. Luckily it seems like they haven't gotten too fast with the snow and everything. They're not super quick, so you don't have to worry about hitting putts too hard.''
Mahan opened Thursday with a 5-and-4 victory over Italian teenager Matteo Manassero. Last year at Dove Mountain, the American beat Rory McIlroy in the final after topping Zach Johnson, Y.E. Yang, Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar and Mark Wilson.
“I know I can beat anybody on any given day,'' Mahan said.
Mahan set up a third-round match against Martin Kaymer, the German player who handed the American his last loss in the tournament – a 2-and 1 decision in the third round in 2011.
“That was a good match,'' Kaymer said. “I barely won in the end, but it was a tough, really tight match, and he became a lot better player the last two years. I have a lot of respect for him. It will be very tough.''
Kaymer beat Spain's Rafael Cabrera Bello 2 and 1 on Friday.
PERFECT PIERCY: Scott Piercy holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 fifth hole in his 7-and-6 victory over 2011 champion Luke Donald.
“That was pretty, man,'' Piercy said. “I had 221 into the wind, and Luke had hit his second shot 50, 60 yards short of the green in the bunker. Really, I was just trying to hit like a little cut 4-iron, roll it up on the green, kind of put the pressure back on him to hit a good bunker shot to try and get up and down.
“I flushed it, and you never imagine that you're trying to make it. It's just luck. But it's perfectly executed, just a low cut and hit right into the slope and disappeared.''
Piercy will face Steve Stricker in the third round. Stricker beat Nick Watney in 21 holes.
WEATHER FORECAST: Morning frost is expected over the weekend, with overnight lows around 33 on Saturday and 38 on Sunday.
Saturday will be the best day of the tournament with mostly sunny conditions and a high of 63. On Sunday, it is expected to be partly cloudy and breezy with a high of 59.
The opening round was halted Wednesday after 3 1/2 hours because of a freak snowstorm that covered Dove Mountain with nearly 2 inches. More snow fell overnight, and play finally resumed early Thursday afternoon. Because of the delay, the second round was pushed back to Friday, forcing the third round to be played Saturday morning before the quarterfinals.
Two rounds also are set for Sunday.
DIVOTS: Sweden's Alexander Noren, a 20-hole loser to Graeme McDowell in the second round, did enough this week to get into the top 50 in the world ranking and earn a spot in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in two weeks at Doral. … The first-round losers received $46,000, and the second-round losers got $96,000. The players eliminated in the third round will get $144,000, and the quarterfinal losers will receive $275,000. The champion will earn $1.5 million, second place is worth $875,000, third place $615,000 and fourth $500,000.