MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — Despite eight European Tour victories and a 5-2 record in two Ryder Cup appearances, mention Ian Poulter to the casual golf fan and the conversation would start with his wardrobe.
The Union Jack trousers he once wore at a major. Colors that are found in a bag of Skittles. When he wore a bright aqua shade earlier this week at the Match Play Championship, he made sure half of his shoes were the same color, along with the print on his sponsor logos.
The highlight of every evening is ironing his clothes, most of which he designs.
“For me it’s a business, and one that I’m very passionate about,” Poulter said. “And I take pride and care on how I present myself on the golf course. And a lot of people haven’t really seen it that way over the last few years.”
That might be about to change.
Dressed in a soft pink outfit for a chilly day in the high desert, Poulter collected the biggest win of his career Sunday in the Match Play Championship. With a stellar short game and unusual calm, he led over the final 28 holes and beat Paul Casey, 4 and 2.
It was an all-England final in the first World Golf Championship of the year, yet among the most significant achievements for Poulter was winning for the first time on American soil.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Poulter said. “Five or six years of hard work, coming over to change my residency, to be living in America, to finally win over here … it means everything. And it’s just so pleasing to be able to finally say now I’m a winner on the PGA Tour.”
Casey already is a PGA Tour winner – he won the Houston Open last year – but Match Play is becoming a burden. He became the first player in the 12-year history of his tournament to lose consecutive years in the championship matches.
He didn’t have much of a chance either time.
A year ago, Geoff Ogilvy built a 3-up lead after the morning 18 holes on his way to a 4-and-3 victory. Poulter seized command on the back nine of the morning session by winning three holes in a four-hole stretch, then settled for a 2-up lead at the turn.
Momentum was on Casey’s side at lunch. The start of the second 18 didn’t taste so well.
Poulter birdied the first two holes to go 4 up, and while Casey cut that lead in half with eight holes to play, he never got closer. The last good chance appeared to come at the 15th, when both drove into a collection area right of the green on the 307-yard hole, with Poulter facing the more difficult shot. He had to go straight up a steep slope with about 15 feet of green. And he had mud on his ball.
“I had to hit that shot absolutely perfect,” Poulter said. “And I didn’t actually see what happened, but it finished a couple of inches from the hole. It was perfect. That’s one of the nicest shots I’ve played in a while.”
That put him 3 up with three to play, and Poulter closed out Casey with a par on the 16th.
Casey could have attributed his play to fatigue. Before he reached the final, he had to finish his semifinal match against Camilo Villegas early Sunday morning. Villegas hooked his opening tee shot into the desert, and Casey won with a par to win in 24 holes.
Villegas, equipped with a new attitude to not be so hard on himself, rebounded to whip Sergio Garcia in the consolation match, 5 and 4.
Casey spent ample time talking about shots that didn’t go where he was aiming, which usually is a problem in golf. Perhaps the most damaging came at the par-5 13th, when he had a 7-iron to the green for his second shot and missed it badly.
But he knew the biggest reason he lost.
“Ian played great stuff,” Casey said. “He did what he needed to do today. I think he kept it in play on every single hole, which is pretty impressive around here, and made a lot of clutch putts He’s putting very, very well.”
Poulter gave credit to a new lob wedge with a little more bounce to help the ball come out a little higher, one of the adjustments he has made for new grooves. It helped him on delicate shots, such as behind the 13th green in the morning session, behind the 12th green in the afternoon, and the sensational wedge on the 15th that effectively gave him the tournament and the $1.4 million prize.
“I would say my short game, certainly this week, has been as good as it’s ever been,” Poulter said. “The last 12 months, it’s been up there with the best of them.”
Perhaps it was only fitting that he posed with a WGC trophy named the “Walter Hagen Cup.”
Hagen, among golf’s greatest players with 11 majors, was regarded as much for his snappy attire as his record four straight PGA Championships when they were match play.
The Haig would have liked this spunky Englishman.
“Are you saying I’m a snappy dresser?” Poulter asked with a grin.
That’s a matter of taste. As for his short game? It had no match at Dove Mountain.