CASARES, Spain — Ian Poulter loves being the underdog. Loves when it’s Poults vs. the world. Hates it when he feels he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Loves it when he can ram the words of his critics down their throats. Critics who say he is a poor ball-striker.
Well, he just beat the world’s best two players in two days. He sent Lee Westwood packing on Saturday and defeated Luke Donald 2 and 1 to win the Volvo World Match Play Championship and collect a winner’s check for $1.1 million.
“When I hear a few comments, I kind of want to play well to put those people right,” Poulter said. “I might not swing it the best in the world. I probably wasn’t given as much talent as some other people. It doesn’t have to be picture perfect. You just have to get the job done.”
Are you listening, Johnny Miller?
Donald was busy all week enhancing his reputation as an invincible match-play machine, taking his unbeaten run to 12 matches with a 5-and-3 victory over Martin Kaymer in the semifinal Sunday morning. A win against Poulter in the final would have taken him to No. 1 in the World Ranking, but it was unlucky match number 13, and Poulter loves playing the party pooper. Golf’s ultimate street fighter, he relishes a scrap. And that’s just what he got in a scruffy final where fatigue, both mental and physical, looked to be taking its toll on both players.
Poulter thrives on adversity. He’s like John McEnroe in spikes; he never seems happier than when he has to do things the hard way. “If you’re just out there making birdies, winning an easy match, that’s great,” Poulter said. “But it’s nice to have a good tussle.”
Donald duly obliged. “It was a bit of a scrappy match and Ian did what he had to do,” Donald said. “He’s gritty. He gets the job done.”
The match swung toward Poulter on the back nine, where he holed three crucial birdies at 12, 14 and 16, each one a dagger. Donald holed nothing as the match entered the final holes, not one putt that counted. “My putter left me,” he said.
Poulter knows only too well how that feels. “A lot of questions have been asked over the last five months why I have been playing so poorly,” Poulter said. “I just haven’t holed any putts.”
But he was back to his Ryder Cup best here, as his putter zoned in on Finca Cortison’s holes. “It will be a quiet celebration,” Poulter said. “Bottle of champagne on the flight back to the UK. Don’t think it will take more than a couple of glasses to get me drunk.”
That’s the downside of winning a match-play tournament. When you’re the last man standing after 108 holes in four days plus the pro-am, there aren’t many people left to celebrate with. Of course, Poulter already knew that. He is the first player to add this title to a WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, which he won in 2010.
“Can we play 20 match play events a year, please?” Poulter said, laughing. “It’s a nice record. I don’t know what it is about match play. I just love it. I think I get more adrenaline, get more up for it. I need to change that into my stroke-play game.”
This was Poulter’s 14th career victory and the first since last year’s Hong Kong Open, and it moves him to 15th in the world.
Five years ago, Tiger Woods called Luke Donald a “plodder.” But it now seems only a matter of time before the Englishman reaches the summit of the game. Woods meanwhile has fallen out of the top 10. Donald has now racked up 13 top 10s in his last 14 tournaments and almost $10 million in prize money in seven months. So, plodding along nicely. He even wore Tiger’s trademark red for Sunday’s final.
The more dandyish Poulter was looking pretty in pink until he fell backward down a hill at the eighth after taking a wild thrash at his ball in a bush. He landed in the mud on his backside. The only injury was a slight bruise to his ego, a stain on his shirt and a lost diamond-encrusted ball marker that fell out of his pocket. A marshal was sent back to find Poulter’s missing bling, which he returned to Poulter instead of putting it on eBay.
Another consequence of Poulter’s win is that Lee Westwood will remain No. 1 for another week. However, Donald showed again that he is at the peak of his powers. He’s like one of those mechanical toys that kids wind up and off they go. It’s just that his batteries ran out in the final.
“I gave him too many opportunities and didn’t take any of mine,” Donald said. “That will leave a sour taste in my mouth. I just ran out of steam. The No. 1 world ranking will come if I keep playing the way I am.” The European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, England, is next week.
Donald did manage to hitch a ride out of Spain on Sunday night on a private jet to London. Unfortunately, it was Poulter’s jet. It really wasn’t Donald’s day. Oh well, champagne, anyone?