“Priceless Poulter”

“Cometh the hour, cometh the ‘Poults'”, a statement never more true than late last night in Humble Texas, at the gripping conclusion of the Houston Open. He’s done it before, who can ever forget the ‘Miracle at Medinah’, and no doubt he will probably do it again but what he achieved over the past four days and most notably on the final hole last night was really quite astonishing.

A “people’s champion” with the heart and the courage of a lion, he dug deep to produce an awe inspiring performance that has been quite rightly widely acclaimed in golfing circles in the immediate aftermath, fellow English golfers such as Justin Rose and Luke Donald, amongst others, queuing up to offer their congratulations.

What he achieved must be set against a backdrop of near despair fuelled by gross incompetence by the US golfing authorities last week when he was wrongly advised that he had qualified for next week’s US Masters after some very good individual victories in the World Matchplay tournament, only to be told that he had not qualified after all. This was not the first time that he had been wrongly advised of his qualification, or not, by the US PGA following a similar mishap regarding his Tour Card.

He pitched up in Humble knowing that his only chance of playing in this year’s Masters was to win the tournament. In his whole career, he had never won a matchplay event int the US and, at the age of 42, what was the chance of this happening now? About 70-1 with most bookmakers. To coin the phrase, he had ‘two hopes, and Bob was out of town’.

Yet ‘Poults’ is one of those golfers who thrives when the odds are stacked against him. He may appear flash and arrogant, yet that extrovert exterior masks a deep determination and resilience, for he is a true competitor. As his Ryder Cup experiences illustrate, he thrives in adversity and he is just the sort of man you would want in the trenches with you when the chips are down. He completely embraces the team environment, his sporting background and love of football sees to that. However, it could be argued that he has never quite fulfilled his true potential as an individual, despite reaching the heady heights of number 5 in the World Rankings, which is not bad for a lad from Hitchin.

After round one in Humble, Poulter had packed his bags. Having carded a 73, he found himself in 123rd place and the chances of even making the cut were slim at best. No golfer in the history of US golf was ever won a tournament from such a position after the first round. His odds would have moved out dramatically.

Clearly he had been badly affected by the events of the previous few days at the Matchplay and he would have been making arrangements to fly back to Florida to be with his family after round two. Yet, Poulter is a warrior, never one to throw in the towel without giving it his best shot.  He relaxed, threw caution to the wind and with an “I’ll show them” type attitude he shot a 64.

In round three, he almost repeated the feat, rolling in putts from all over and, having carded a 65, he suddenly found himself joint top of the leaderboard. Surely he couldn’t, could he?

All was looking good in round four, he was playing patiently and serenely. No jitters, no wobbles, in fact he was looking very cool, calm and collected and, with four more birdies,  he eased into a three shot lead. Jordan Speith’s challenge was over and it seemed like it would be a stroll to the title and onto Augusta with something to spare.

However,  just when you think that its all over, golf has a habit of producing the unexpected. No fault of Poulters really in this instance, but the direct result of some extraordinary golf from his playing partner, the relatively unknown 23 year old Texan rookie with the delightful name of Beau Hossler, who suddenly rolled in four consecutive birdies to move ahead by one shot with two holes to go.

The best sport is full of high drama when the outcome is not known until the very last moment and, for those watching these events unfold back in Britain late on Easter Sunday night, it really could not have been more gripping. Golf is accused by many of being a dreary spectator sport but the tension was almost unbearable, especially with so much at stake. This was golf at its finest. The prize on offer was huge, for both men, and about so much more than just winning this tournament in Humble.

Hossler parred the last hole and it was surely all over. Poulter had not holed a putt from more than seven feet all day and he needed a twenty footer to take the tournament into a play off.  No-one watching could take their eyes off the ball as it rolled slowly down the slope towards the hole, but all thoughts were really in hope rather than expectation.

It rolled and rolled and rolled ….and, as it slowly dropped into the cup, those around the country back home and watching on their television sets would have been hard pressed not to have leapt up off their sofas, punching the air with joy, such was the excitement of the moment. This was quite remarkable, unbelievable really. As for the man himself, he thumped his heart repeatedly with passion and feeling. Boy was he pumped up, yet ironically this was his only real show of emotion for the whole of his round, so concentrated and focused had he been.

Beau sportingly raised a smile in incredulity at what he had just witnessed, yet inside he was a broken man. He had been so close. The momentum was suddenly all with Poulter and, sadly for Beau, at the first extra hole, he bunkered twice and found the water, so Poulter was able to take the trophy with relative ease and without indue pressure. Not only did he make off with the trophy, but all the trappings that went with it too, including a tour exemption for two years and, arguably most importantly, the chance to tee it up on Thursday at the Augusta National.

The US Golf administrators would have been eating humble pie last night yet in a strange way, Poulter’s heroics could have arguably saved their bacon for he will now be at Augusta after all. It is often said that “all’s well that ends well”and that is most definitely the case here.

For Poulter, whilst he is $1.26m richer for his win, this victory means so much more than cash in the bank. This was all about triumph in the face of adversity, the ability to keep his head when everything was seemingly conspiring against him and, to then produce a performance of such patience, poise and precision was phenomenal. Priceless.

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