Poulter revels in the limelight but stumbles on centre stage
Ryder Cup hero fails to shed the baggage of never winning a major
if this were his precise intention. In 2008 here, he finished second to Padraig Harrington. A week later his wife Katie told him she was pregnant.
“Happy days” is how he remembers them now. But by the time of his first tee-shot, the bar had been set too high. South Africa’s Branden Grace had just set a new record of 62 for a single round in men’s majors.
The crowd were fizzing. They were expecting a day of spectacular, scoreboard-shredding golf. Poulter seemed ready to join in.
But a three-putt on the first green took a bite out of his overnight score of three under par. More pressure was applied by his playing partner, Brooks Koepka, the US Open champion, who struck three birdies on the spin and finished with a 68. Younger, tightly focused and sharper with the putter, Koepka was showing Poulter the strength of the opposition as he clung to his dream.
There is no baggage quite like the best-player-never-to-have-won-amajor tag. There are others in that penal colony – but one fewer after Sergio Garcia’s Masters win in April. Poulter qualified for this 146th Open through the 36-hole final qualifying competition. When arthritis in his feet required laser surgery, he dropped to 210 in the world rankings. Last year he missed the Open and Ryder Cup with injury. “I was low, I was down, and I wasn’t happy playing golf for a long time,” he says.
Poulter promised himself he would use the crowd’s support to lift him to the top. He spoke of “huge galleries, really pulling for me,” and said: “The large confidence tank that was empty a few months ago is starting to fill up. And I like it when it gets full up.”
The public love this kind of language. And we in the media love it even more. The urge to play it down (“it’s going to be difficult for me to talk about that right now”) is never stronger than his wish to take up a challenge, or cast himself as a golfer for whom anything is possible. At the Ryder Cup, it certainly is. He has blessed that competition with his eye-popping passion.
Majors, though, are another matter, and with each wave of good new players the quest becomes harder. Excitement was no help to him.
Romance only threw problems in his path.
The Claret Jug has moved out of reach again. This was not a day for clinging on. It called for dramatic headway, which Rory McIlroy also failed to make. Poulter expressed a lot of anger in that 60-second inquisition.
But he also showed how driven he is, how much it means to him.
Out of the running: Ian Poulter will have to wait a little longer to break his major duck