Ian Poulter, Rickie Fowler in early contention at Scottish Open

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Ian Poulter, Rickie Fowler in early contention at Scottish Open

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Ian Poulter, Rickie Fowler in early contention at Scottish Open

It’s hard to believe Ian Poulter’s future was in doubt only a few months ago. Amazing what one good result can do.

Poulter has parlayed second place at the Players Championship into a revival. He’s now looking at contending on the golf course where he achieved his greatest major success.

He might even return to Royal Birkdale for next week’s Open Championship as Scottish Open champion.

The flamboyant Englishman returned a 5-under 67 in the $7 million Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. He’s tied for second place in a group that includes 2015 champion Rickie Fowler. They trail Mikko Ilonen by two shots after the Finn returned a 65.

Five birdies and eagle at the par-5 14th hole highlighted Poulter’s round. Back-to-back bogeys at the 15th and 16th holes set him back a little, but Poulter is right where he wants to be: in contention heading back to Birkdale.

Poulter finished second in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale nine years ago. He holed a gutsy 15-foot par putt on the 72nd hole he thought might get him in a playoff. That was before Padraig Harrington went crazy on the back nine. The Irishman won by four shots to repeat as champion golfer of the year after winning at Carnoustie.

While Harrington’s spot at Royal Birkdale as a past champion was assured, Poulter had to go through final qualifying to get back to Birkdale this year. He did that at his home course Woburn last week, and has been on a high ever since.

But then he’s been flying since Sawgrass. That result has allowed Poulter the freedom to play in the big money events in Europe.

“The last few months have been weird, planning a schedule pretty much heavy in the States and then obviously a big finish in The Players changed that instantly,” Poulter said.

“It’s been great. I’ve had a great time. The weather has been good, so far, in patches. But it’s just nice to be here playing good tournaments, big purses, big fields, obviously next week in The Open.

“It’s obviously nice to be in The Open. I think it was good to get it done on my home course. Obviously a little bit of extra pressure there with members watching.”

The Ryder Cup star is listed at 66-1 with British bookmakers Ladbrokes to win the Open next week. Those odds will drop drastically if Poulter manages to win the Scottish, but then the ever-confident Englishman will feel good about his chances of going one place higher at Birkdale than in 2008, no matter what the bookmakers say.

Fowler is a 16-1 shot to win the Open Championship. He’s proved he’s a good links player with his Scottish Open victory two years ago at Gullane, and his runner-up finish in the 2014 Open Championship to Rory McIlory.

“Having won here in 2015 at Gullane, I think it’s a great way for me to come over and get ready for The Open, but also to play somewhere where I know I can play well. I love playing links golf,” Fowler said.

“I’m looking forward to this week and getting myself in contention and being in a good spot and ready to go next week in The Open at Birkdale.”

He’s achieved the first part. We’ll soon find out if his links experience is good enough make the Open Championship his first major win.

Serious questions surround McIlroy heading into the Open Championship. He returned a 2-over 74 and is in danger of a second successive missed cut following last week’s Irish Open. Right now his 12-1 odds to win next week don’t look too enticing.

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