Poulter proves a point

Martin Rogers

SOUTHPORT, England – The professional golfers who still narrow their eyes and turn their shoulders when Ian Poulter crosses their path in the locker room now have slightly less reason to bear a grudge.

The Englishman became something of a pariah earlier this year for reportedly insisting that he saw himself as the only realistic challenger to Tiger Woods’s dominance at the summit of world golf.

Seasoned pros did not take kindly to such comments from a man who had managed just one top 10 finish in a major, and although Poulter claimed he had been misquoted much of the damage was already done.

Woods still jokingly greets Poulter with yells of “how’s it going number two” whenever they meet.

Yet with his second-place finish at the British Open, the 32-year-old proved he is made of sterner stuff than was previously imagined.

He is not number two and not about to take world golf by storm, but his resolute final round, which laid down the gauntlet so elegantly picked up by Padraig Harrington, will have earned him a new respect in the eyes of many.

Back when Poulter wore trousers emblazoned with the image of the claret jug in 2005 and 2006, Seve Ballesteros was moved to quip that “that’s the closest he will ever get to it.”

However, Poulter was bogey free after the third hole on Sunday and carded a 69 to finish seven-over, four shots adrift of the fast finishing Harrington.

The points gathered from this performance will put him in the mix for an automatic spot on Europe's Ryder Cup squad, but his fighting display on Sunday will not have escaped the attention of captain Nick Faldo when selection time comes around, if necessary.

Poulter will never be loved by all. The inherent trait of understatement in the British public means that a man who loves his flashy outfits and hairstyles will often meet the disapproval of the straight-laced brigade.

But Poulter doesn’t seem to care too much and is happiest when doing things his own way. He will take some satisfaction and relief from Royal Birkdale, knowing he has gone at least a fraction of the way to backing up the recently printed boasts, whether or not they were misconstrued or exaggerated.

“I don’t need to ride the storm of comments that get made and get taken out of context,” he said. “I’m just pleased I went out today and put a good show on.

“It wasn’t quite good enough because Padraig put in a hell of a performance and really did his stuff on the back nine.”

Yet before Harrington embarked upon his finishing streak of collecting four shots in the last six holes, a Poulter victory was a distinct possibility for nearly an hour. A trip to the range at the end of his round was in order with a playoff still on the cards.

In the end it was not enough and while Poulter is still a little bit too wounded by the backlash that greeted his comments earlier in the year to see the irony in him having come in second, there will be confidence taken from this week to mix with his natural bravado.

“I’ve known that I can perform well and play good,” he said. “I guess I am just trying to let that come out in me. There is plenty more in me and I know I can go better. It is all about winning so I won’t feel like this is my best result. I’m not going to hold a second place as high as some of my wins. You don’t strive to finish second, you strive to win, and that is what will make me practice harder and harder.”