SOUTHPORT, England – Never mind where Ian Poulter was three months ago — out of options on the PGA Tour, outside the top 200 in the world ranking, and seemingly headed back to Europe before a calculation error.
How about last year?
Out of action because of a foot injury, he spent the first two rounds of The Open as a commentator for Sky Sports.
“One of the most difficult things I’ve done,” he said Thursday.
It was all part of a trying year. He didn’t play five consecutive majors, a stretch that was so upsetting that he couldn’t even bring himself to watch the coverage on TV.
“It’s too easy to get down,” he said.
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But the Tour’s recalibration of his FedExCup points in late April gave Poulter, 41, new life. He tied for second at The Players, which secured his playing privileges for next season. He called that tournament a “huge turning point,” and said that he’s now a “freer player,” knowing that each time he tees it up his competitive future isn’t at stake.
After making five consecutive cuts worldwide, Poulter shared the 54-hole lead at last week’s Scottish Open before a flat Sunday, when he shot 74 and finished ninth. That disappointment didn’t last long – he opened with 67 Thursday at Royal Birkdale to conjure memories of 2008, when the flamboyant Englishman fist-pumped his way to solo second here.
“My last two rounds on this golf course have been good ones,” he said.
To return to Birkdale, Poulter, who is now No. 78 in the world ranking, needed to go through a 36-hole Open qualifier that proved plenty stressful — it was at his home club, Woburn. Playing in front of several thousand people, he shot rounds of 70-68 and, after an excruciating 45-minute wait, learned that he’d grabbed one of the three available spots.
Poulter conceded that there was a point over the past year when he wondered whether he’d be able to return to top form, whether he’d once again play in some of the world’s biggest events.
“It’s easy to be down when you feel you’re a great player and all of a sudden you’re hampered with a bit of injury or you’re not getting the results you want,” he said. “It’s very easy to slide away.
“So I’m proud of the way I’ve been able to refocus, get things back on the straight and narrow, clear away some of the noise in the background, and get back to really focusing hard on what I need to do to get the level of golf back that I think I can play.”