Reunion gives Poulter a share of Woods spotlight
Englishman renews rivalry with Tiger but cannot do enough to earn bragging rights, writes Sam Dean
More than a decade has passed since Tiger Woods typed out a withering text to Hank Haney, his then coach, after Ian Poulter had shared a lift on the American’s private jet. “Can you believe this d--- mooched a ride on my plane?” it read, according to Haney’s book, The Big Miss.
Eleven years later, Woods may have felt tempted to send an update. “Can you believe this d--- mooched a ride on my Masters comeback?” For as the crowds gathered once more on the first tee, turning it into a temporary Tiger town for the third day running, it was Poulter standing next to him, revelling in the frenzied atmosphere that accompanies all things Woods.
There were more eyes on Poulter at the first tee than at any other point in this tournament. He would have enjoyed that, as well as the more festive feel when he crashed his drive down the first fairway. The frustration will be that he was unable to take this energy from the patrons and convert it into a steady third round.
Inconsistency is the story of Poulter’s Masters this year. A continued lack of rhythm has prevented him making a move up the leaderboard. A third day peppered with five bogeys ended with a scorecard reading 74, leaving him seven over and three shots behind Woods, the playing partner he would so love to have usurped.
It would have taken a forest fire at Augusta National to dislodge Woods from the top of the pre-Masters news bulletins, but Poulter has given it as good a shot as anyone. His dramatic qualification, secured with a chestthumping win at the previous week’s Houston Open, provided an alternative tale of golfing redemption as the world fixated on the fit-again Woods, the self-titled “walking miracle”.
Saturday’s pairing reignited a rivalry that has naturally fizzled out as both men have tumbled away from golf ’s upper echelons in recent years. While Woods, who was born just 11 days before his playing partner, wondered whether his mangled back would ever allow him to play golf again, Poulter was scrambling to keep hold of his PGA Tour card. It therefore feels a long time indeed. It has been more than 10 years, in fact, since Poulter famously declared himself the only player capable of challenging Woods’s supremacy.
“The trouble is I don’t rate anyone else,” Poulter had said in an interview in 2008. “I know I have not played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger.”
Well, for one round at least in this year’s Masters, he was right – it was just him and Tiger. The caveat is that both players began the day looking desperately up the leaderboard, having only just survived the cut, rather than gazing down from the highest level. It hardly needs saying that those words have followed Poulter ever since. On one sports website, the comment is listed as a the primary moment that “proves he is completely unlikeable”. Poulter, obviously, will not care about that. But he would have cared greatly for the prospect of sharing this revered course with Woods during the third round here, and he would have desperately wanted to outshine the four-time Masters champion who has claimed so much of the attention this week.
Both Poulter and Woods only scraped through to the weekend after two erratic rounds had left them on respective scores of five over and four over. It meant that neither player could approach their reunion with much hope of a meaningful push up the leaderboard. Poulter could not find his flow and dropped shots on the first, fourth, seventh, eighth and 17th left him at the bottom of the leaderboard on seven over par when he signed for his third round. Woods fared three shots better and talk immediately turned to his future, and whether an appearance at the Ryder Cup is possible.
“Tiger playing at the Ryder Cup in September would be fantastic for golf.,” said European captain Thomas Bjorn. “He pushes the sport outside the normal borders of the game and even though the Ryder Cup is huge regardless, it would be amazing.”
This too was amazing, in a way, for both these men. But it was a welcome return to centre stage , even if for Poulter much of the limelight was merely a reflection off his illustrious playing partner. Augusta National member Jeff Knox played with Paul Casey in the first group out yesterday, acting as the Englishman’s marker. Knox has fulfilled this role since 2003 when needed, and holds the non-members’ course record of 61. Few players can rival Phil Mickelson’s powers of recovery, but even he could not extricate himself from under a tree at the first. Wearing two gloves in the pouring rain, Lefty took a swing but missed the ball completely.
Matt Fitzpatrick showed the chasing pack what was possible with a superb third round in the Masters. Fitzpatrick made the cut with nothing to spare and was one over after six holes Francesco Molinari walks under a very gloomy sky at Augusta National as the third round got under way. The patrons were still there in numbers – as were the umbrellas. Tyrrell Hatton was furious after missing a par putt on the 11th, almost throwing it in the water. After making a solid birdie putt on the following hole he was rather happier, however. on Saturday, but birdied the seventh, eighth, 12th and 14th and eagled the 15th for a 67. That matched his lowest score in the Masters in the final round in 2016 and took the 23-year-old from Sheffield to level par.
Second best: Ian Poulter wanted to upstage Tiger Woods but shot a 74 to his rival’s 72