Re­u­nion gives Poul­ter a share of Woods spot­light

English­man re­news ri­valry with Tiger but can­not do enough to earn brag­ging rights, writes Sam Dean

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Masters 2018 -

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.

Fitzpatrick fires

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

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