SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Ian Poulter was freshly removed from a shrill-shrieking nightmare of a finish to his second round at the U.S. Open. He was being guided between TV interviewers when a U.S Golf Association staffer asked him if he needed some water.
“Whiskey,” Poulter replied. “A whole bottle.”
You’d hit the hard stuff in bulk, too, if your brilliant Friday afternoon of work went off to die on your 17th hole of the day. The Englishman’s ghastly triple bogey took him out of a Saturday pairing in the last group with leader Dustin Johnson, and the subsequent bogey on his final hole knocked him down to a five-way tie for fourth.
Pass the Jameson, please.
Someone asked Poulter what he’d do to put that finish out of his mind for the weekend.
“What finish?” Poulter responded.
It will take some selective amnesia to forget the eighth hole Friday. Poulter was 3-under par and had split the fairway again, part of a sizzling late roll. He was three swings of the club and four putts away from a 67, which would have tied his lowest career round in a U.S. Open.
Instead, Poulter blocked a 7-iron into a green-side trap. Then he bladed his bunker shot, sending it rocketing over the green and over the gallery on the opposite side.
“A poor bunker shot should have been 20 feet [from the pin],” Poulter said. “I hit a really, really poor bunker shot to 30 yards.”
That was followed with a fat pitch that went just a few feet before dying in the deep rough. He gouged that out, two-putted and staggered away from the wreckage.
“I felt stupid knifing the first one [from the trap],” Poulter said. “I felt really stupid chunking the next one. And the one after that wasn’t much better.”
In spite of feeling so stupid, Poulter simultaneously felt pretty good. This is a guy who said he’s “hated” Shinnecock Hills for 14 years, since his first-ever U.S. Open appearance ended in a missed cut. He added that he’s “hated a lot of U.S. Opens over the years,” a tournament in which he’s never cracked the top 10.
And yet here he is. In contention at a time when few expected it.
There were two 42-year-olds in this field who were trying to rejuvenate their games and hadn’t played in the Open since 2015. Tiger Woods went home after missing the cut. Poulter, who has vaulted from 207th in the world rankings 16 months ago to 27th now, soldiers on.
“I’m 1-over par in the U.S. Open,” he said. “If someone had offered you that on a Wednesday, I think you’d take it.”
This calm in the aftermath of a brutal finish might be part of the new Poults, a more mellow guy who has toned down his loud pants and loud mouth in his 40s.
He’s said more than a few things that have created controversy over the years. A decade ago, Poulter predicted that when he started playing to his potential, “it will be just me and Tiger” at the top of the sport. He’s been a feisty Ryder Cup competitor, mixing it up with American fans and accusing American Anthony Kim in 2008 of body-checking him on the course. And his Twitter commentary has occasionally led him into hot water.
Friday, dressed in muted black pants and a lavender shirt, Poulter seized fortuitous weather conditions to charge up the leaderboard. Pin flags hung limp in the late afternoon for the only time in the two days of play thus far. Greens were soft after morning showers.
Red numbers sprouted all over the leaderboard. Birdies went from myth to reality.
“I definitely got the best of the weather,” Poulter said.
Favorable conditions and sharp shot-making led to a birdie at the fourth hole, followed by a near-eagle at five. Then he had an epic sand save on six, standing outside the trap with the ball way below his feet. Poulter crouched down and slapped it to tap-in range for par.
After that came a birdie at seven, and it appeared Poulter would glide into the weekend in the final group. Instead, he wound up asking for whiskey and heading to the driving range to straighten out his 7-iron issues.
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 15, 2018
Still, the end result after 36 holes is at the high end of his expectations. Maybe beyond it. Before winning the Houston Open earlier this year, Poulter hadn’t won a tournament since 2012. Now he’s in contention for his first career major victory.
“I’m in the hunt,” Poulter said. “I’m happy.”
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