Ian Poulter mounts biggest PGA Tour comeback in 35 years
From despair, to resignation, to joy, to Augusta.
Last week Ian Poulter thought he’d made the Masters, then the math boffins told him otherwise.
Then the Englishman looked to have blown his last chance to qualify for the year’s first major with an opening 73 at this week’s Houston Open.
The winner in Texas would secure the final spot at Augusta, but Poulter was sure his dream was over and packed his bags.
But three rounds and 21 birdies later, Poulter pounded his heart with joy as he sank a 19-foot birdie putt to force a playoff in Houston.
And he grabbed his chance at the first extra hole to beat American Beau Hossler for his first strokeplay win on US soil.
Poulter’s Ryder Cup nickname is “The Postman” — because the postman always delivers — and he delivered when it mattered most to book a first trip to the Masters since 2016.
Rekindling memories of the 2012 Ryder Cup, known as the “Miracle of Medinah, ” Poulter’s ascent — from 123rd in the leaderboard on Friday, to top of the pile come Sunday — was the sharpest for 35 years on the PGA Tour.
And it quickly extinguished the agony of Austin.
Poulter had reached the quarterfinals of the WGC Match Play and done enough, he was told, to make the world’s top 50 and ensure a Masters spot. Instead, he was later informed he would need to reach the semifinal to be secure. He lost his quarterfinal 8&6 to American Kevin Kisner.
“To get this done today to get me to Augusta is amazing,” said Poulter, who led Europe’s Ryder Cup fightback from a seemingly impossible position in Chicago six years ago.
“My first strokeplay win in the States, and to do it with the Masters on the line is unbelievable.
“It’s going to take a little while to sink in. I’m super excited.”
Poulter acknowledged it had been a “rollercoaster last couple of years,” and indeed it wasn’t long ago he’d slipped outside the world’s top 200, beginning to consider life without a PGA Tour card.
This victory, his first at this level since the 2010 Match Play in Arizona, earned him $1,260,000 and took him back inside the top 30 with one of golf’s most prestigious events just days away.
“I was kind of forcing things, trying to force my way into the Masters,” Poulter admitted. “It didn’t work so I had to rethink it, blow the cobwebs out Thursday night, reset and go again.
“The journey continues. “I’ve had 19 good years on Tour and I guess I’ve got another couple coming.”
Ranked 213th in the world ahead of the tournament, Hossler had never previously secured a top-three finish in his professional career.
The 23-year-old Californian had done everything right Sunday, notching four birdies on the back nine, but he ultimately couldn’t go the distance on the playoff, finding the bunker then the water to score an anticlimactic triple bogey.
“I got the best of Ian Poulter today and he got the best of me,” said Hossler. “Unfortunately he came out on top this time but I feel good about my chances moving forward and I feel good that I can contend when it’s important.
“I said yesterday I wanted to beat these guys at their best and I think I saw Ian’s best today. It’s a bummer right now but I’m proud of the way I played.”
Three shots back in third position was a resurgent Jordan Spieth, who reveled in his best full-field finish since September.
The 24-year-old former world No. 1 flirted with victory at the Houston Open three years ago, losing out to J.B Holmes, but ultimately going on to win golf’s most coveted prize a few days later in Augusta.
With that in mind, Spieth jokingly told his caddy Michael Greller he didn’t necessarily want to win “because that looks like 2015.”
“Goal accomplished for the week,” Spieth said. “I’ve made some big strides from my last couple tournaments. I’m very excited for what next week holds.”
Meanwhile the great and the good of the golfing world made sure to congratulate Poulter on the third PGA Tour victory of his 23-year professional career.
As Poulter himself put it, “there’s life in the old dog yet.”