By Steve Douglas, Associated Press
GULLANE, Scotland -- As his long putt for eagle dipped into the heart of the cup on the ninth green, Ian Poulter strode after the ball with purpose and wound up a huge fist pump in celebration.
The Englishman was starting a hot streak of putts to muscle into contention at the Open Championship on Sunday.
"They were going in the middle, like they were in Medinah," Poulter said, recalling his memorable barrage of hole-winning putts for Europe during last year's Ryder Cup. "The excitement, the atmosphere, the fans out there were certainly giving me a lot of electricity and pumping me up."
After starting the final round eight shots off the lead on 5 over par, Poulter had given himself next to no chance of reeling in the leaders at Muirfield as he went to bed on Saturday.
But by the time he was teeing off on No. 13, having made that eagle and then birdies at the next three holes, he was level par and two strokes off imploding leader Lee Westwood. As Poulter fiddled with his sunglasses while walking down the 13th fairway, he had that determined look on his face that has been seen so many times during Ryder Cups.
"As I rolled that putt in right there to get myself back to level par, I was right there in the mix," Poulter said. "I think Westie had made bogey at that stage and was at 2-under par. Yeah, I realized then that they've got a lot of tricky holes to play to get to the position that I was in."
All sorts of things were going through Poulter's mind -- Paul Lawrie's victory in the 1999 Open at Carnoustie after starting the final round 10 shots behind Jean van de Velde, the six-shot swing in last year's tournament that enabled Ernie Els to edge Adam Scott to the claret jug.
"This tournament does it year in, year out, and it creates a lot of drama," Poulter said.
He bogeyed No. 16 after an errant tee shot but still posted a 4-under 67 for a total of 1 over.
A flight that was booked for 8:00 p.m. local time -- about two hours after the last group was due to finish -- was swiftly canceled, with many of the contenders starting to drop behind Poulter. First Tiger Woods, then Adam Scott, Hunter Mahan and countryman Westwood.
Phil Mickelson, though, stayed strong down the stretch and finished four shots ahead of him. There was to be no first major for Poulter.
But he was at least able to celebrate his best finish at his home major since 2008, when he was second behind Padraig Harrington at Royal Birkdale.
"I managed to chop into the guys' lead somewhat around the turn ... I really put myself in a nice position. It's a shame to bogey No. 16, not birdie No. 17," Poulter said. "But 4-under par in those circumstances was obviously a very good round of golf. I'm pleased but I can certainly look back and look at a couple of putts that probably slipped by, which might be what's required to have put my hands on the trophy."
Like in the lead-up to the 2008 Open, Poulter changed his putter before arriving at Muirfield.
"Maybe," he quipped, "I need to change my putter every week."
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