Poulter's finest hour

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

That streak of individuality which has seen Ian Poulter sport pink, green and flag-covered outfits did him no favors in the court of public opinion over the past fortnight.

Dismay at Darren Clarke's omission as a captain's pick morphed into a brutal dissection of Poulter's big-stage suitability and a stream of European angst and column inches ensued.

Yet by the end of Saturday afternoon, when the visitors averted a blowout and kept the 37th Ryder Cup still up for grabs, Poulter had made enough noise with his outstanding play and victorious roars to drown out the dissenting voices.

The flamboyant outfits were left in the closet, replaced by the more somber tones of the regimented European uniform, yet the Englishman found an even better way to get noticed.

Poulter finished partnered play at Valhalla with a 3-1-0 record, with the only blemish coming courtesy of an opening-morning meltdown alongside Justin Rose.

From that point on he was inspired, joining Rose again for back-to-back wins on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning as Europe clung on to its hopes of returning home with the piece of silverware it has started to regard as its own.

However, it was Poulter's final shot of the opening two days that was the most pivotal – for him, and for Europe.

A four-foot putt across the slope on 18, with the eyes of two continents and pensive team captain Nick Faldo upon him, gave Poulter the platform to prove he is of sound mind and steely nerve.

The putt was far less imposing than many of the others he drained on Day 2. But it was for a vital point, sealing victory along with Graeme McDowell over Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry, the American pair that simply would not go away over the closing holes.

Poulter's reaction was pure release, of delight, relief and frustration at the way his selection was greeted with such suspicion and vitriol.

A shriek towards his teammates and a demented wide-eyed stare preceded a boisterous round of high-fives and hugs, and suddenly European souls were energized once more.

"It has been an unbelievable two days," said Poulter. "I am almost speechless. I am running high right now and we've got a huge piece of momentum. The boys are so pumped and this is what the Ryder Cup is all about."

Faldo clasped his hands together nervously as Poulter stepped up on 18, knowing his reputation was on the line just as much as his player's. Once it was over he pulled Poulter close. "(Expletive) brilliant, (expletive) brilliant," he said in Poulter's ear, time and again.

If that snapshot in time did not tilt the Europeans back into favoritism, it certainly arrested what could have been a hasty decline.

It resoundingly stunted the momentum that threatened to build up for the Americans once crowd favorites Boo Weekley and J.B Holmes led the gallery on a raucous and thrilling ride around the back nine to beat Lee Westwood and Soren Hansen. At that point, a U.S. advantage of significantly more than the eventual 9-7 overnight scoreline seemed likely.

With Rose rested for the first time, Poulter found a good foil in McDowell, the feisty Northern Irishman, who like Anthony Kim and Hunter Mahan on the U.S. side, has already established himself as a warrior undaunted by the most pressurized of golfing situations.

Yet no player on either side has stood as tall or boldly as Poulter so far. From the moment he began Day 2 by clipping the flagstick on the first, you could sense it was his time.

"He has come up big," said Faldo. "He is playing great, he is very strong minded and great in the team room. Look at what he's doing on the course, it is great stuff."

There will always be those who find themselves rubbed the wrong way by Poulter's personality.

His proclamation earlier this year that he, along with Tiger Woods, was on a different level to every other golfer mixed delusion with factual incorrectness in a spectacular act of self-damage.

His brave second-place finish at the British Open would have impressed some of the doubters, but not necessarily made him more likable.

But Poulter doesn't seem to care about that too much, especially at Valhalla, where he has revelled in the role of unappreciated underdog.

He has molded himself effortlessly into the tight-knit European team. Yet that little bit of individuality was still there, albeit hidden from view.

"I love wearing the Ryder Cup uniform, even though it is a bit different to what I normally wear," said Poulter. "But don't worry, I've still got my pink boxers on."

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