PGA Tour Confidential: Poulter rallies to win WGC-HSBC Champions in China

PGA Tour Confidential: Poulter rallies to win WGC-HSBC Champions in China

Ian Poulter erased a four-shot deficit in the final round to earn his first title of 2012.
Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Ian Poulter rallied to win the HSBC Champions in Shenzhen, China, on Sunday, collecting the second World Golf Championship title of his career. The star of Europe's Ryder Cup victory, Poulter has shown flashes of greatness before. So tell me: Is the Englishman ready to be included in the elite-player discussion and break through at a major? Or is he just one of those guys who will ride the occasional hot streak?

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Terrific player. Elite? Depends on your definition. Is Lee Westwood elite? Colin Montgomerie? Luke Donald? In my opinion, although many major winners are not elite, you have to win at least one to rise to that category.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: I think a more mature Poulter — he's 36 — has as good a shot at winning a major as anyone who doesn't already have one. He's good at scoring and good at putting. On a hot week, he can play with anyone.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Poulter is one of those guys, like a lot of players on tour, who can win a major if he has his best stuff on a given week on the right course. He can definitely win a major. If you recall, he made a gutsy run at the 2008 British Open, when Harrington won. Is he consistently an elite-level ballstriker? No. But I'd sure as hell not want to play him in singles in a Ryder Cup.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Poulter is certainly capable of winning a major. He just has to time one of his hot streaks correctly.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Poulter was fantastic at Mission Hills, which appeared to be as wide open as a municipal park, and he has been an absolute star in Ryder Cups, where the setups are usually soft to encourage aggressive play. The major setups, with the exception of the British Open, tend to be too punitive for him. I love the guy, but I don't expect him to win multiple majors.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I like Mark Wilson's chances to win a major more than Ian Poulter's. Mark Wilson, U.S. Open champion. Which major can you close your eyes and imagine Poulter winning?

Herre: Good point, Michael. I can't see one major that seems like a perfect fit. I guess maybe the Masters because the guy can make putts.

Hanger: If he got the putter going like he did at the Ryder Cup, I think he could be dangerous at Augusta National.

Van Sickle: I don't think the Masters is Ian's cup of tea. Too much of a premium on ballstriking. I'd say the British Open is his best shot. He's a very good scrambler, and in a nice, windy Open where everybody is scrambling, he'd have an edge.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Poulter's best shot would be a PGA Championship, but he might hoist a claret jug someday if he got off to a fast start and fed off the crowd. I don't love his short game enough to pick him for a U.S. Open or a Masters.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, I'll answer the question with an even crazier question: if he wins that one major, is he in the Hall of Fame? Sounds crazy at first, but then you look a little deeper — 12 Euro wins, 2 WGCs, Ryder Cup brilliance, that one major. He's approaching Fred Couples territory.

Herre: I wouldn't go that far. Couples has charisma. Poulter can come off as a punk. He's not a one-major Hall of Famer.

Bamberger: "Approaching Fred Couples territory" — we need a higher standard than that.

Van Sickle: The knee-jerk reaction is, no way. But throw Fred in there or Chi Chi with his eight PGA Tour wins, and it's not out of the question. Of course, it would be hard to vote Poulter in before Monty and his eight Order of Merits.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Poulter becoming an elite player? What major is he most likely to win?

Godich: Tiger and Rory weren't there, but Poulter still beat a strong field that featured a sexy leaderboard. Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Jason Dufner were among the players who tied for second. Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen held a share of the third-round lead. And for the second week in a row, Nick Watney flirted with 59. Based on what you've seen of late, which player are you most intrigued to watch in 2013?

Bamberger: You really want a truthful answer? Tiger. His is a sports story and more.

Herre: I like a late-bloomer like the Duf. His ball-striking, course management and head are first rate. If he can take his short game up a notch, I think he could really do some damage.

Hanger: Dufner. Love his demeanor and waggle, and I want to see if he can get a major in 2013. Oosty's fun to watch too with that classic swing, but we pretty much know what to expect from Phil, Ernie and Lee.

Dusek: Easy, Mickelson. He's at a point in his career when he could either win a major or fade into the sunset. His health is a concern, as is his motivation at non-majors, but I think he's got another green jacket in his future. I'll also be fascinated to see if a 40-year-old Westwood can win his first major now that he'll be based in America.

Ritter: All eyes will be on Tiger and Rory, but from the list you offered us, it's Phil who could most easily turn into a compelling story. Does his late-season surge foreshadow a last great one- or two-year run, or is he on the downside? Can't wait to see how he looks on the West Coast in a few months.

Van Sickle: It's hard to argue against Tiger and Rory, who will be endlessly fascinating. Especially Tiger, who I think will have a better '13 than '12. I'm intrigued by Oosthuizen's potential. He really seems like he's got the total game. Maybe he just needs a little more time, a little more confidence and a little more killer instinct. He could be another Ernie Els, if we're lucky.

Garrity: I think Dufner is by far the most intriguing. Aside from his Mona Lisa smile, I want to know how a journeyman pro can suddenly morph into a superstar without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs.

Walker: I'm still most intrigued by the Duf. His great 2012 season, his steady Ryder Cup play, his ability to stare at a single animal at the zoo for hours. Mickelson too. It's starting to look like he's getting his confidence back with the putter.

Godich: That begs the question: How long will Phil stick with the claw grip if he hits a rough stretch on the greens?

Ritter: About as long as it took readers to finish that sentence.

Herre: Phil is all about change. He'll try anything.

Dusek: I agree. Phil has proven he's willing to adapt his game and his equipment more than just about any player out there.

Bamberger: He sticks with his caddie and his wife. After that, all bets are off.

Van Sickle: You go to the claw because you have to. I think he'll stick with it because it appears right now that there's an end-game coming for belly and long putters. No incentive to switch to one of those right now.

Bamberger: You could see him go belly (again) just to stick it to the idea of a rules change.

Herre: Yes, Mickelson likes to make a statement.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Which player are you most interested in following next year?

Godich: Speaking of belly putters, you knew it was going to happen. Word is that Keegan Bradley is contemplating legal action if the powers-that-be enact rules to ban the belly putter. If Bradley goes through with a suit, will he have a putter to lean on?

Garrity: He'll have lots of putters to lean on. He just won't be able to use them in tournaments.

Herre: Good luck, Keegan, and I hope you have saved every last cent.

Dusek: As much as I detest the idea of banning anchored putters, I don't understand the grounds for a legal battle. The USGA and the R&A makes the rules of the game, and the PGA Tour chooses to play by them. Do we know what Keegan would base a potential suit on?

Herre: Talk is cheap.

Van Sickle: Talk is cheap unless it's your lawyer talking. Then it's very, very expensive. It would be an exciting court case, though.

Hanger: I think the ban would be silly, but I don't see how the players could win a lawsuit. The ruling bodies have a right to make the rules for the game, and the players are free agents, not employees of the PGA Tour.

Ritter: I just don't see how taking the governing body of your sport to court over a rule you don't agree with can make for a viable legal case. But yes, it would make for good TV.

Bamberger: I don't think he'd go through with a suit. At the end of the day, he's the shut-up-and-play type. How can a pro say that the USGA and the R&A can't make the rules of golf? That's what they DO. You may not like them, but it's what they do.

Walker: I don't think Bradley would have much of a case, but it would be a fun storyline for The Good Wife.

Van Sickle: Bradley is not alone. Tim Clark and Carl Pettersson would probably join him. I don't think a player revolt against the USGA is out of the question, and it's going to make PGA Tour players finally ask, "Exactly why are we letting somebody else dictate the rules to us?" Instead of a lawsuit, they'd be better off (and far more likely) to petition the PGA Tour to break away and take over as its own governing body. I think some players would go for that.

Herre: The PGA Tour pros would love it, but I can't see the Tour taking such a radical step. The Tour has always sought cover under the Rules of Golf.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Would a Bradley lawsuit have a shot at success?

Godich: The PGA Tour announced that the HSBC will be an official Tour event in 2013. It was the only of the four WGC events not so designated, but it is half-a-world away from Ponte Vedra Beach. Should we be surprised by this announcement?

Bamberger: Oh no. Like the detectives always say, follow the money.

Dusek: Hell no. Would anyone be surprised if more Asian-based PGA Tour events were added in the next decade?

Herre: Count on it. The Euro tour expanded to Asia out of desperation. It looks like a good move now. We'll be seeing more and more golf from the places where the game is growing.

Van Sickle: I expect more tournaments in Asia in the next few years. It's good news for the PGA Tour but, long-term, maybe not so good for sponsors of some American-based Tour events.

Walker: I'm more interested in seeing if the PGA Tour can create golfers and golf fans in China beyond the wealthy. Based on Alan Shipnuck's reporting last week, progress there is mixed.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Are you surprised the Tour is making the HSBC an official event?

Godich: Before he left Asia, Tiger Woods said he had a long road to get back to No. 1 in the world. He also said he has played a heavy schedule this year (24 events by the end of the year). I've long advocated more competition to accelerate the process for Tiger. What do you think? Would more competition benefit Tiger?

Dusek: The more Tiger plays, the better he'll play on a day-to-day basis. Does that mean 24 events in 2013 will guarantee him a major? No. But he added tournaments to his rota in early 2012 and won Bay Hill and the Memorial. That was no coincidence.

Herre: Yes, more "reps" would help Tiger. But, frankly, that's not likely to happen. He has always been one to strategically pick his spots, often times with business interests being the deciding factor. The Woods brand may be somewhat diminished, but he remains the biggest force in the game.

Walker: Tiger played more events this year, and you could really see him improve when he was playing for two or three consecutive weeks. Until he owns this new swing, more is more for Tiger.

Garrity: Absolutely. Tiger's dealt with most of his swing issues, and I don't see what's gained by hitting thousands of balls in his backyard. He needs to put himself in contention in more tournaments to restore his confidence under pressure. That weekend swagger was sadly lacking this season.

Hanger: I'm not so sure. He is getting older, and I think run-of-the-mill Tour stops may have lost their luster. I think he might do just as well to save his strength and keep a laser focus on the four big ones every season.

Van Sickle: Tiger's recurring themes of "it's a process" and "more reps" have gotten old. He's had plenty of time to rebuild his game and his psyche. I think it might help him to rack up some wins and play some smaller Tour stops that he hasn't visited in a while, but I don't see him needing a heavier schedule. We'd all love it, but it's not going to happen. He'll probably drop back to 15 to 18.

Bamberger: He really needed a year where he got back in the groove of playing tournament golf, so it wasn't a novelty. I don't think we'll ever see him play this much again. For one thing, the less he plays, the more he'll get paid to play at tournaments that offer appearance fees. But mainly he wants to really get up for the four majors. If he plays too much, it all starts to feel like the same thing. That's not Tiger golf.

Ritter: Tiger was No. 23 in the world on Jan. 1. Today he's No. 2. It might be smart to keep the packed schedule going for as long as his body can hold up.

Herre: At this point in time, Tiger being No. 2 to Rory is perfect positioning for an ad campaign.

Bamberger: I think Rory batting second to Tiger would make Nike even happier.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Did Tiger benefit from his packed schedule this season?

Godich: Guan Tianlang went wire-to-wire to win the Asia Pacific Amateur on Sunday and picked up an invitation to the 2013 Masters. This might not be such big news if Guan wasn't a 14-year-old eighth-grader. All of 125 pounds, Guan admits he's going to have to get a lot stronger (and longer) to tackle Augusta National. How will the youngster fare at Augusta? Will he break 80? Anybody think he comes close to making the cut?

Bamberger: Par for him is 80. He can shoot 160.

Herre: He will be crushed but will get a lot of pre-tournament publicity.

Dusek: Make the cut? No. Break 80? Probably not. He'll be an interesting Monday or Tuesday story.

Godich: We'll revisit these predictions in the spring … but I'm afraid you're right. And you might be kind.

Hanger: I think breaking 80 is do-able if his short game is sharp, but the cut is not.

Van Sickle: Having never seen the kid hit a shot, I have no opinion on how he'll do. All I know is that he's probably an overnight rock star who's going to have big endorsement money waiting for him when he turns pro. In the Masters at 14? That's absolutely amazing. I wonder if that's what the Masters folks had in mind when they teed up the Asian Amateur?

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: How will the 14-year-old fare at Augusta National next April?