LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Ian Poulter promised to bring flair, excitement and passion to the European Ryder Cup team.
Friday afternoon, he decided to bring his putter, too.
Poulter and fellow Englishman Justin Rose bounced back from a disappointing collapse during an opening foursome loss to dominate their afternoon match in a 4-and-2 win over Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis.
The win provided a little redemption for Poulter, a controversial wild-card pick by European captain Nick Faldo, and Rose, a Ryder Cup rookie.
The two seemingly had their morning match against Chad Campbell and Stewart Cink under control, taking an early 3-up lead before collapsing on the back nine and losing 1-up when they three-putted the 18th.
The afternoon went much more smoothly for the longtime friends.
Like the morning, they quickly built a lead. This time, it stuck. Poulter drilled a lengthy birdie putt at 14 to push the lead to 3-up, and he closed it out with another birdie on No. 16.
“It was key,” Poulter said. “The 25 minutes we got at lunch didn’t feel so good.”
Faldo coupled Poulter and Rose, hoping their friendship would calm any nerves on either side.
Wearing matching blue visors and white belts to go with their European team polo shirts and gray slacks, they looked at ease playing together, and they quickly got over their late-morning swoon.
Rose birdied the par-4 second to give them the lead. Stricker drew the U.S. even with a birdie on No. 3, but Poulter responded with birdies at Nos. 6 and 7 to give them momentum they never let go.
“We played well on the front nine in the morning, and it was nice to get that back,” Poulter said.
It appeared it might disappear during the morning after the struggled to make a putt – any putt – on the back nine against Cink and Campbell.
A little magic around the greens – if not on them – allowed them to keep going after the Americans erased the 3-up deficit. They were able to extend the match to 18, when their putters gave out.
Poulter put his drive in the fairway on the par 5, but Rose’s approach came up short. Poulter splashed out of the bunker 10 feet by the hole. With Faldo watching from the back of the green, Poulter got down on his belly to help Rose read the putt.
It didn’t help.
Rose pushed the ball 6 feet past, and when Poulter couldn’t make the comebacker, the Americans had escaped.
By sundown they had gotten back on track, perhaps validating Poulter’s selection to the team.
Faldo’s choice to pick the flamboyant Poulter raised some eyebrows, particularly in Europe where many thought longtime Ryder Cup star Darren Clarke was a more deserving of a captain’s pick.
Poulter’s decision to skip a chance to secure an automatic spot on the team by choosing to play in a lucrative PGA Tour event in Boston rather than a European tour event in Scotland led some to speculate Faldo had already assured Poulter a berth on the team.
Poulter pledged to prove his worthiness despite a shaky season in which his best finish was a runner-up at the British Open. He had just one top-10 outside of that and came to Valhalla having missed his last two cuts.
Friday afternoon, his recent struggles hardly mattered.