x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Brash Poulter has proven his worth for Europe

Say what you like about Ian Poulter's brashness, arrogance, showiness and penchant for outrageous clothing - the guy has a fantastic game and a remarkable degree of character to put right any personality defects he might have.

Ian Poulter celebrates a birdie putt on the 18th on Saturday. His form over the first two days in Valhalla has vindicated Nick Faldo's decision to pick him.
Ian Poulter celebrates a birdie putt on the 18th on Saturday. His form over the first two days in Valhalla has vindicated Nick Faldo's decision to pick him.

Say what you like about Ian Poulter's brashness, arrogance, showiness and penchant for outrageous clothing - the guy has a fantastic game and a remarkable degree of character to put right any personality defects he might have. And how brilliantly the young Englishman displayed those qualities in Valhalla, where he was part of the Europe team trying to retain the Ryder Cup.

Half his continent was against the idea of him travelling to Kentucky, courtesy of one of the two coveted wild cards handed out by the team captain Nick Faldo. Other players - past Ryder Cup heroes like Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke for instance - were considered to have better credentials to join the 10 automatic qualifiers in the visitors' line- up. Faldo knew that his nomination of Poulter was a controversial one and one which could have been thrown back at him if things went badly against the Americans. The captain could have reacted to those questions against his leadership by using Poulter sparingly.

That would not be Faldo, however, and the European figurehead, noted for his stubbornness throughout a highly successful playing career, endorsed his own decision and underlined his confidence in Poulter by making him the only player to appear in five rubbers of this year's showdown. Poulter's response was phenomenal. After carelessly throwing away the chance of a foursomes win on the first morning, he was the inspirational figure in three subsequent victories, two of them with fellow Englishman Justin Rose and the third with Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell.

Without Poulter's contribution, the Cup, held proudly for the last six years, would have been well on its way to returning to the US before the defining series of 12 singles concluded last night (early in the morning in the Emirates). Instead, Europe, outplayed in the early stages of the 37th transatlantic battle, went into the finale with the momentum running with them and expressing confidence of overcoming a deficit of two points to retain their prized possession.

After Europe had taken the Saturday morning foursomes to pull the overall score back to 7-5, they held high hopes of gaining further ground in the afternoon fourballs and, indeed, had chances to win all four rubbers. In the end, however, honours were shared and the singles got under way late last night with the Americans leading 9-7 and needing to take 5½ more points. A 14-14 tie would leave the Cup in European hands as they are the holders.

It was fitting that Poulter should have had a routine, albeit tense, three-footer to seal Europe's sole victory in a dramatic second series of fourballs late on Saturday night. He and McDowell had fought tooth and nail to withstand the fiercest of examinations by Jim Furyk and the Kentuckian local favourite Kenny Perry. But the Europeans would not be denied and an ecstatic Poulter found himself heaping grateful praise on McDowell in the same fashion as he had congratulated Rose after their earlier successes.

"If there was ever any doubt why this guy was given a wild card pick, he's showed [dispelled] it the last two days," said McDowell. "He's an unbelievable team player. I just really enjoyed playing with him. He's showing the world why he's in this team." Faldo, the Europe captain, threw his arms around Poulter at the end of the thrilling second day. "I told him 'I'm proud of you. I'm so proud of you. Simple as that'." he said.

Faldo, like Paul Azinger, was enthralled with his first taste of captaining Europe after playing with distinction for them 11 times. "When guys hole putts, the sheer emotion on their faces is unbelievable," he said. "We don't get that in regular tournaments. It's different." Faldo warmly praised the efforts made by Azinger, his colleague as a commentator on the US-based ABC network, to wrest back the trophy.

"There are 12 top golfers who want to play well against us, they've got pride and passion, same as us. They want to come and beat us, and we want to beat them," he said. Three of the four matches in the second fourball series went to the last green on Saturday night, "We took some blows. They played great, and we only lost one point. We're happy," Faldo said. "I felt like the afternoon was another roller coaster ride just like the first day. We could have lost it 3-1: we could have won it 3-1.

"Anything could have happened out there." Azinger's two defining moments of a nail-biting afternoon were the putt Steve Stricker made on the last hole to secure a half point against Paul Casey and Garcia and the fact that Robert Karlsson, who produced the best individual display with six birdies on the back nine, did not make a clinching eagle at the last to defeat Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan.

That match also finished halved, leaving Europe to celebrate one victory through their man of the tournament Poulter and his partner McDowell. The Americans also won one match through Boo Weekley and JB Holmes. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae