IN a week dominated by Tiger Woods’ world address and the media fallout that followed, Ian Poulter staked his claim to become the best golfer currently playing on the planet, in dominating fashion.
The Hitchin-born Englishman beat fellow countryman Paul Casey 4&2 in the thirty-six hole final to win the Accenture World Matchplay Championship and round off a more than memorable week. The title is his first World Golf Championship win and importantly, his first win on American soil.
Ten days ago, the name Ian Poulter may have been synonomous in many people’s mind with crazy clothes, messy hair and shanks at Augusta; but after last week in the desert, his name should now be mutually exclusive with one word only – Matchplay.
Between the Wednesday and Sunday of last week’s WGC event, Poulter beat Justin Leonard, Adam Scott, Jeev Milkha Singh, Thongchai Jaidee, Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey. This list of players which the victor defeated en route to the trophy is impressive, but the manner in which those victories were achieved was without doubt what stood out most about Poulter’s winning week.
Ian possesses a very certain swagger on the golf course which seems to be exaggerated in matchplay. In Arizona he came across as being as fearless and ferocious as normal, but there seemed to be an added focus to win which seemed to permeate his game; a focus, quite simply, to be the best golfer.
He left everybody watching him in no doubt that even if Tiger Woods had of been there, the sky-blue Walter Hagen Trophy would have been coming back to ‘Enger-land‘ and nowhere else.
Poulter has always been cocky and more than once the now-34 year old has stated his belief that – one day – the two-biggest hitters in the world of golf, will be Tiger Woods and himself.
The claims have always amused the media and have certainly helped heighten Poulter’s image as a mouthy fighter, willing to talk up to anyone and pick a scrap. But they seemed a bit nonsensical. How could they not? Woods was continuing to win major after major whilst Poulter’s biggest win remained the Volvo Masters (a very fine tournament but no major championship).
Things are a little different now though.
Whilst the golfing world was busy decrying Woods for his media appearance at Sawgrass last Friday, everybody missed what should have been a big talking-point; namely that in the indefinite absence of Woods, the World Matchplay Championships was the perfect tournament to help us – the golfing universe – work out which of the current crop of top-65 golfers in the World were playing well enough and were currently in the right frame of mind, to take up the mantle as the best golfer currently competitive on the planet.
Considering its context, the tournament should have been billed as the modern-day equivalent of the week of games and spoils with which the Romans used to revel in. The Emperor (Woods) after announcing he would be leaving indefinitely, needs a replacement to lead the Empire (golf) forward, into the future; it is settled that the top-65 contenders for the crown should compete one-on-one, man-on-man, to be the last man standing – an epic matchplay tournament of symbolic importance.
But before the event even started, the only thing anybody seemed to want to talk about concerning the WGC was the fact that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were not there. Once it became clear that Woods would speak to the world on the Friday, the event seemed to fall completely from the lips of Sport.
Whilst the Woods affair dominated the headlines, the World Matchplay Championship was talked about so sparingly you would almost be excused for thinking that the top-65 golfers in the World were walking around Arizona in solemn melancholy, quietly despairing over Woods’ continued non-attendance.
There was one man, though, who looked determined all week to not just ‘get on with life without the world number one,‘ but to win and to be the best and, without doubt, that was Poulter.
These are exciting times for Poulter, especially considering the absence of the world number one. Almost everybody in golf is expecting that Tiger Woods will return to the game one day and resume almost exactly (after a couple of weeks of match practise) where he left off. Surely this is a presumption we are not in the position to make.
How can we be sure that Woods will be able to mentally overcome his troubles?
We can’t and every golfer currently competitive on the European and PGA Tours, with any modicum of ambition, has to realise this. If the world number one does not return for another year, then that means somebody has twelve whole months to have the best year of their golfing life and put themselves in the mental position to feel ready to never again let Woods reign over the golfing world in the same, dominating manner, with which he used to.
Poulter wants to make 2010 the Year of the Well-Dressed Gooner and why not?
It’s time for the golfers on the PGA Tour and the European Tour to stop saying ‘we just want Tiger back as soon as possible,’ to wake up, to smell the roses – which have all the potential to bloom in the absence of Woods – and to be the best.
For years one man has ruled over the game of golf and his professional colleagues have been left clueless time and time again, baffled as to how one guy can be quite so good and ruesome that they have to come up against him week in week out.
For the time being Tiger isn’t going to be around, so who wants to be the best player on the planet without him?
Ian Poulter has put both hands up. Who will follow in the run-up to the Masters?
By Ross A. Fox