Ian Poulter continues to ride a wave that began in Chicago and has shown no sign of cresting as Europe’s Ryder Cup hero on Sunday captured the HSBC Champions, his second career World Golf Championships victory.
Poulter, 36, put together a weekend of consecutive 7-under-par 65s at Mission Hills Golf Club's Olazabal Course, moving from 12th place to fourth entering the final round. It was his 12th European Tour victory in a career far removed from the Englishman's early days of giving lessons to juniors and members at Leighton Buzzard Golf Club in central England.
“I definitely think it is a part continuation of the Ryder Cup,” Poulter said of his first stroke-play victory since the 2010 Hong Kong Open. “I knew this week is a golf course that I know really well, and I've played well around here. I know if I do hole the putts at the right time on this golf course, I was going to put myself in a decent position. “
Poulter had taken three weeks off after the Ryder Cup, in which he led Europe to a comeback against the United State, before making the trip to Shanghai, where he finished fourth at the BMW Masters. He came to Mission Hills still full of confidence not only from his Ryder Cup experience, but his mind-set since the biennial matches.
“I tried to get away from golf a little bit,” Poulter said. “But a couple of rounds of golf that I played in the three weeks off, I made 27 birdies without hitting a golf ball in practice in three broken rounds of golf. So I was still holing those putts. So I knew that I could kind of ride a lot of that for a while, and I certainly did that last week.”
In the last 36 holes, Poulter needed only 54 putts and made one eagle and 13 birdies against a lone bogey.
The victory, Poulter’s first on the European Tour since he won the 2011 Volvo World Match Play Championship, jumped him from 13th to fourth in the Race to Dubai standings with two weeks left before the finale in Dubai.
Poulter started quickly with two birdies in the first three holes and then made consecutive birdies on the Nos. 7 and 8 to make the turn at 4 under.
He kept the hot hand on the back nine, with birdies on four of the next six holes, capped by a 20-foot putt on the par-5 15th for a three-shot lead. A bogey on the par-3 17th hole proved inconsequential.
Now Poulter takes a well-deserved rest before returning to competition at the Australian Masters and then Dubai.
“As well as I've played this year, it would have been a disappointment personally to have gone that year without winning," Poulter said. “It's, obviously, a great and fantastic feeling, especially after the Ryder Cup, to get my hands back on a great trophy like this.”
2. Another US runner-up
Americans Jason Dufner, Phil Mickelson and Scott Piercy finished tied for second with South Africa's Ernie Els. For Dufner and Piercy, it was their highest finish in a WGC event in their careers.
“I'm happy with where I'm at,” Piercy said after a final round 7-under 65. “I came to work on my world ranking, get world-ranking points, and I think I did a good job of that. So I'm excited.”
Piercy said he found something last week in Malaysia at the CIMB Classic. After opening with a 75, Piercy shot 68-64 before a final-round 62 to finish 10th.
Whatever he found worked as he shot all four rounds in the 60s to earn $417,500, his third-largest career paycheck.
“I'm shutting it down the rest of the year,” Piercy said. “I figured I could play hard for two weeks and then I've got some time off till January. Looking forward to it. I feel good with my game, and it's nice to go finish the year off this way. “
3. Way to go, Vern
Ernie Els came to China not sure what he was going to get from a left ankle that was so sore last week, he was on crutches and not playing in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda.
When Els arrived on the southeast coast of China, he was even less sure about how he would do with the elevations inherent in the Jose Maria Olazabal-designed course at Mission Hills.
But when Els finished tied for second here, he gave all the credit to his physio trainer, Vern McMullen.
“It's sore; don't get me wrong,” Els said after a final-round 67 left him at 19-under 269. “It was a bit of a physical test for me this week, but I had Vern, my trainer, with me who worked on it every day, so it's only going to get better. “
Looking back, Els could point to only three holes — a final-round bogey on the 14th, and a third-round double bogey at 15 followed by a bogey at 16 — that were his downfall this week.
“The back nine cost me a little bit," said the reigning British Open winner, who played the home nine in only 1 under for the week. “But other than that, I played it really nice and struck it nice."
Els will take four weeks off and then play in Malaysia at the Iskandar Johor Open in mid-December before opening his 2013 season in Abu Dhabi
4. HSBC re-ups
British banking giant HSBC has renewed its sponsorship of the HSBC Champions through 2015 and will move the tournament back to Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai staring next year.
Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour's commissioner, also confirmed that starting in the 2014 season, the HSBC Champions will be recognized as an official PGA Tour event. Players will receive FedEx Cup points under the same formula as other WGC events. The winner will receive a three-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and the purse will increase to $8.5 million, up from $7 million.
5. Perfect conditions
With near-perfect weather conditions at the par-72, 7,301-yard Olazabal Course, scoring conditions were ideal over the four days of the HSBC Champions.
The fourth-round scoring average was 70.714, and the cumulative average for the week was 70.919.
The hardest hole in relation to par was No. 12, a 457-yard par 4 that played to a 4.361 average.
The easiest hole was the par-5 third, a 548-yarder that averaged 4.348 strokes.