AUGUSTA, Ga. — If clothes maketh the man, what do no clothes maketh? In the case of Ian Poulter, the snappy- dressing, spiky-haired Brit, they make him the (ahem) butt of constant wisecracks. Poulter is still taking heat for recently posing nude (save for a strategically-placed pink golf bag) in a British magazine, in which he boldly stated, “When I play to my potential, it’s just me and Tiger.” The World No.1 saw Poulter on the Augusta range earlier this week and gave him the needle, calling over, “Hey there, No. 2!”
Fortunately for Poulter, his game got most of the attention on Thursday, thanks to his opening-round 70 — with an ace on the par-3 16th — that vaulted him onto the first page of the Masters leaderboard. This time, he let his clubs do the talking.
Not that his clothes were mute. The 32-year-old sported a sleeveless sweater with green vertical stripes that made him look like a freshly-squeezed tube of toothpaste. His pants were a lurid lime green. Correction. “They’re pistachio,” he said.
He must be … nuts (rim shot!).
The crowd went nuts, too, when he flushed an 8-iron for his ace on the 169-yard 16th. The oh-so shy and retiring Poulter gave them the full Tiger-uppercut treatment. When the roar died down, he turned to the bleachers and cupped his ear, eliciting another surge of hoots and hollers. “It gave me such a buzz, I wanted another one,” he said. “That was the biggest adrenaline rush I’ve ever had.”
Well, with his clothes on, anyway.
Poulter birdied the second, then parred 13 straight holes before his ace on 16. He missed just two greens in regulation, including the 17th, when he toasted his 5-iron approach 203 yards uphill, into-the-wind — and over the green. “It must have been down to adrenaline,” Poulter said. “Bizarre.”
Poulter has been criticized for having more style than substance on the course. On Thursday, he displayed a game every bit as flashy as his wardrobe. “That was one of the best ball-striking rounds I have ever played,” Poulter said. “It was flawless to the green.”
Poulter’s superb first round is no surprise, given his play in 2007. He was one of only seven players to make all four cuts in the majors (with a T-13 at Augusta), had five top 10s on the PGA Tour, four more top 10s in Europe, and won his eighth career title at the Dunlop Phoenix Open in Japan. The veteran has traveled a long, hard road — from selling T-shirts in a market stall to fund his golf as a teenager, to turning pro while only a four-handicap, to thrusting himself into the world’s top 25.
Poulter has said that his I’ll-tame-Tiger comments were not meant to offend Woods or anyone else. “Tiger has been a role model for me,” he said. “I was still working in a pro shop when he started out winning majors. I have worked hard to get here. Now it’s great to play in the same arena as him.”
Oh, has the fashion-forward Poulter ever worn a green jacket?
“No,” he said with a sly smile. “But I’d quite like to.”