Poulter in major contention – again

Ian Poulter’s playing well at a major again. And this time, it

could help in his bid to make the European Ryder Cup team.

Poulter shot a 1-under 71 in the PGA Championship on Friday and

was a stroke behind leaders Tiger Woods, Carl Pettersson and Vijay

Singh after two rounds at The Ocean Course.

European captain Jose Maria Olazabal said he’d keep an eye on

Poulter at the PGA Championship, leading up to the Spaniard’s two

picks in September. Poulter made sure all Olazabal had to do was

look near the leaders. It’s been that way at most majors this

year.

Poulter finished seventh at the Masters and, after tying for

41st at the U.S. Open, had another top 10 at the British Open in

tying for ninth.

”It’s enjoyable when you’re at the top of the leaderboard as

opposed to being down the bottom or even fighting to make the

cut,” Poulter said. ”I mean, you’re in contention, then it’s fun

in a sick way, I guess.”

Anyone who played The Ocean Course in Friday’s conditions knew

what Poulter meant.

There were gusts of 30 mph blowing in off the Atlantic Ocean and

the scoring average of 78.11 was the highest ever since the PGA

Championship switched from match play to stroke play.

But there was the Englishman, breezily hitting fairways and

greens – and avoiding the problems certain to come on Pete Dye’s

layout when you’re off target.

”The golf shots this course asks you to hit time and time and

time and time again, you really have to hit phenomenal golf

shots,” Poulter said. ”The room for error is so tiny, and when

you get it wrong, you can 15 feet below the level of the green in a

bad lie, in a wasteland bunker with not much of a shot.”

That hasn’t happened much for Poulter at the majors this year.

He made a bit of a charge on the final day of the Masters before

fading to a 5 under – five strokes out of the playoff between

champion Bubba Watson and runner-up Louis Oosthuizen.

Poulter played solidly again at Royal Lytham & St. Annes

last month and his even-par 280 gave him a top 10.

He opened play Thursday with a 70, four shots behind leader

Pettersson. Poulter moved up in the second round because most other

competitors couldn’t handle the gusting winds.

Poulter stumbled with back-to-back bogeys on the fifth and sixth

holes, but regained his footing with a birdie on No. 9. He moved to

4-under with a birdie on the 16th and looked as if he’d head into

the locker room with a share of first until his bobble on the 18th

hole.

”It was a long day,” he said.

He might have a few more long, pressure packed days to play at

the end of September when Europe tries to retain the Ryder Cup at

Medinah Country Club.

Olazabal was asked about Poulter’s chances since he stands 20th

on the European Ryder Cup points standings, well back from where he

needs to be to automatically qualify.

Olazabal cited Poulter’s gritty, winning style in match play –

Poulter had a 3-1 match record in Europe’s win at Celtic Manor two

years ago – and said the Englishman was close to being at top

form.

”He’s not all that far away,” Olazabal said. ”He’s one of the

guys that has the best chance of making the team.”

That’s for another day. Right now, Poulter’s concerned with

saving enough energy to make it through two more rounds roughly six

hours long with winds potentially as strong as they played in

Friday.

”There’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. ”I would like

to find anybody that can get around this golf course in under six

hours in the wind. It’s brutal. I mean, it’s absolutely

brutal.”