CASARES, Spain — Ian Poulter said last week in Sawgrass that if he won the Players Championship he would treat himself to a Ferrari Enzo. He finished tied for 25th but got an Enzo anyway.
Instead of a £1 million super-car, however, his is a labradoodle puppy, which gives an altogether different kind of woof.
“It’s a nice consolation,” Poulter said with a grin.
Poulter is the defending champion here as the Volvo World Match Play returns this week to Spain while the PGA Tour stops in Texas. Twenty-four players have jetted in to the Costa del Sol just north of the Rock of Gibraltar. Among them are Sergio Garcia, 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, 2011 PGA champion Martin Kaymer, 2012 WGC-Cadillac Championship winner Justin Rose, reigning British Open champion Darren Clarke, 2011 Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel, Alvaro Quiros and Robert Rock, who held off Tiger Woods to win the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship in January.
They will play round-robin matches in eight groups of three on Thursday and Friday, with the top two in each group advancing to instant knockout matches starting on Saturday. The total purse is 2.75 million euros ($3.5 million) with a first prize of 700,000 euros ($890,000).
One American made the trip from Sawgrass, too. Brandt Snedeker has a tough first match against Thomas Bjorn, who beat Tiger Woods at last year’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, Ariz. Snedeker’s chances have been diminished as his golf clubs failed to arrive in Spain after his plane had to make an emergency landing after a passenger had a heart attack. Snedeker played Wednesday’s pro-am with a set cobbled together from the pro shop.
Poulter had perhaps an even more stressful experience. His clubs turned up in Spain, but his clothes went missing. “The worse thing for me is my clothes go missing than my clubs,” he said. He was joking. Possibly.
He may be the peacock of the fairways, but Poulter has also built a tough gunslinger’s reputation in match play, golf’s version of a bar room shootout. He has starred in the Ryder Cup, won the WGC event in Tucson in 2010, and defeated Luke Donald here in last year’s final. He could barely contain his excitement for the head-to-head battles ahead.
“I love the buzz of it,” he said. “It puts you under pressure, and it’s a great format we don’t play enough of.”
How many match play tournaments would he like to see on the schedule?
“Twenty-five,” he said with a laugh. “It brings out the best golf in everybody. I like looking straight at the guys you are playing. It’s pretty cut-throat. It’s black and white. If you miss, you lose the holes, dead simple. You know exactly what you have to do. Stroke play just doesn’t give you that mindset at all.”
Poulter begins his defense against Australian John Senden, who plays mostly on the PGA Tour. Poulter will be looking to make a statement in this Ryder Cup year. He’s currently 29th in the European standings.
“I want to make the side more than ever,” Poulter said. “Ollie (Jose Maria Olazabal) is going to be an incredible captain. I’m trying to win every tournament I play, but I guess as the year rolls on, if you’re just outside the numbers, it’s on your mind that you have to play well to make the side.”
His good pal Justin Rose, who missed out on the 2010 Ryder Cup, would love to renew their 2008 partnership, and he has a theory why Poulter is so suited to match play.
“He has proved there is a knack to it. His Ryder Cup record is amazing, and he’s won both match play championships,” Rose said.
What does Rose see as Poulter’s secret?
“He seems to make clutch putts. In stroke play, clutch putting only seems to be coming down the back nine on Sunday,” Rose said. “But in match play, you’re making putts to halve, you’re making putts to win holes. He’s very good at that. He’s just one of those competitive guys, eye-to-eye, hates to lose.”
Rose goes up against Rock in an all-England clash on Thursday.
Sergio Garcia also has his eye set on a Ryder Cup appearance at Medinah in September. His poor run of form in 2010 landed him on Colin Montgomerie’s team as an assistant.
“I enjoyed it because the Ryder Cup is special, but I don’t really want to do it again as a vice-captain,” Garcia said. “The Ryder Cup is my favorite event other than the British Open. It would obviously be great to be in that team.”
Would he bet on himself this week?
There he goes again with his negativity. Or maybe it’s positive negativity. The locals will be out in force for his first match against Spaniard Alvaro Quiros.