Poulter displays typical match-play brilliance

Ian Poulter during the third round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Ian Poulter during the third round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

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MARANA, Ariz. –– Here’s the sort of match-play magic that Ian Poulter possesses: Even when fans make the decision to concede the opponent’s putt, the Englishman cannot be beaten.

It was all worth chuckling about afterward, this incident at the 16th green when fans who “probably had one too many to drink,” told Steve Stricker to pick up his golf ball, which had come to rest inside of 3 feet after a nifty pitch. Thinking Poulter had conceded it, Stricker indeed picked it up, and that led Poulter to offer a quizzical spread of his arms.

“As I turned to look at the guy who shouted, Steve had picked his ball up,” said Poulter, who was 3 up at the time and facing a 10-foot par save to close out the match. “I think it was close enough anyway, but for a split second it was a little (disturbing).”

Then again, be honest. It’s hard to imagine that anything can knock Poulter off line when the flavor of golf is match play and the spotlight is on.

It seems like just yesterday he was making what seemed like 17 straight birdies in that Saturday afternoon four-ball match alongside Rory McIlroy, doesn’t it? It was a stunning win over Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson that day at Medinah Country Club – one that paved the way for Europe’s shocking Ryder Cup triumph – and so you have the feeling that Stricker of all people didn’t need to swallow any more of that medicine.

But he did.

“I managed to keep my nose in front,” Poulter said after he dazzled with a few early heroics and beat Stricker, 3 and 2, to advance to the semifinals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Poulter had blitzed Tim Clark, 5 and 3, in the morning’s third round, so after a 31-hole, nine-birdie, one-eagle Saturday, the man who seems to have been born for match play is in line for his second title in four years here at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain.

Poulter certainly scripted a vintage match-play swing of momentum to shake loose from Stricker. Having lost the first hole to a Stricker birdie, Poulter birdied the par-5 second to square the match, but it was the American who was in prime position at the par-3 third, having stuffed his tee shot to 6 feet.

Staring at his 40-footer, Poulter conceded, “it looks like Steve is going to be going up right there.”

But in the latest installment of “Mr. Poulter Plays Match Play,” the 37-year-old slam-dunked his birdie roll, Stricker missed his, and it was if the tone had been set. Birdies at the par-3 sixth and par-4 eighth put Poulter 3 up and given the way the man plays this format, it sure felt over.

Eight holes later, it officially was.

Poulter smiled, then shook his head. He recovered from the immediate shock of those two fans yelling “pick it up” to Stricker, calmed his emotions, and made his putt to continue his match-play brilliance.

To whit:

• Overall, he is now 22-9 in the Accenture, but 10-2 in his last four trips here.

• He is looking to claim a prestigious match-play crown for a third different season in four years (the others being the 2010 Accenture, the 2011 Volvo World Match Play).

• There have been four trips to the Ryder Cup, three of them European wins (2004, 2010, 2012). In the team matches, Poulter is 8-3; in singles he is 4-0, with one of his wins coming over Stricker (in 2008).

All totaled, fairly impressive stuff for the world’s 13th-ranked player who came to Dove Mountain seeded 11th overall. Exactly what does he owe this match play dominance to? Certainly not to any sort of Ryder Cup mentality, that’s for sure.

“I’m playing for myself this week. As good as my record is in the Ryder Cup, it doesn’t translate into playing just for yourself (and this week) I’m playing for myself,” said Poulter, who will take on defending champ Hunter Mahan in Sunday morning’s second semifinal.

That solo mentality might explain why even when he lasered in that 40-footer at the third green his eyes didn’t bug out, like they famously do at the Ryder Cup?

Again, a smile.

“I had my glasses on,” he said, but then for those who questioned it, he added that he is definitely into the matches.

“(The intensity) is there, definitely, it’s there.”

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