Ian Poulter: How revitalised Englishman will revel in father-figure role with Sam Horsfield

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Ian Poulter
Ian Poulter has moved up to 26th in the world rankings

Whenever Ian Poulter finds himself paired with Tiger Woods, as he was at the Masters this month, that quote - the "me and Tiger" one - is dragged up.

It is usually accompanied by a few chuckles. When it was said in 2008 it seemed absurdly cocky, bombastic and misplaced.

Poulter said: "I know I haven't played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger." It was an unforgettable quote and no surprise that it has lived with him ever since.

And yes, it was not exactly prophetic. Only in the unique team environment of the Ryder Cup has Poulter properly separated himself from the rest, acquiring hero status as Europe's self-styled "postman" - the player who always delivers.

But perhaps this is the time to salute the individual qualities of this durable 43-year-old Englishman - because, while that proclaimed dual for dominance with Woods never came close to materialising, Poulter can rightly take huge pride in the enduring and influential nature of his career.

Having been the leading Briton at the Masters, where he tied for 12th place, Poulter led another strong UK contingent at the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head, and secured his fifth top-10 finish of the year on Sunday.

In both performances, Poulter struggled to make the most of promising positions with disappointing final rounds. However, they were still decent finishes that have lifted him to 26th on the world rankings.

He has not been as high in the standings for five years and he is doing this at a time when the top of the game - with the exception of Woods - is being dominated by younger and more powerful players.

Of those above Poulter in the rankings, only the remarkable 48-year-old Phil Mickelson and Masters champion Woods, by eleven days, are older.

Ian Poulter and Tiger Woods during the third round of the 2019 Masters at Augusta
Ian Poulter (right) was paired with eventual winner Tiger Woods for the third round of the Masters

Poulter is doing his bit for the coming generation as well. Ever since he met a 13-year-old Sam Horsfield he has acted as a mentor to the now highly promising European Tour professional.

"It is great to have him in my corner," Horsfield, now 22, said.

"He has been a great influence on me. He's helped me a lot in getting used to life on tour, on and off the course."

This week, Poulter and Horsfield team up in the PGA Tour's Zurich Classic pairs event. It is a refreshing break from the usual diet of 72-hole individual strokeplay, providing fans with the chance to observe the different dynamics of foursomes and fourball play.

After a draining fortnight contending at Augusta and Hilton Head, this is an ideal event for Poulter.

We can expect him to revel in the father-figure role. After all, he seems to like nothing more than to show off to a playing partner.

Remember those five closing birdies with Rory McIlroy that prompted the 'miracle of Medinah in 2012? Europe came from 10-4 down to win that Ryder Cup - and it was Poulter who provided the pulse for that most exhilarating fightback.

Archive: The miracle of Medinah remembered

When his career is remembered it is likely to be for feats such as that rather than for major wins, which are probably beyond him these days. That said, you write him off at your peril.

He has never lacked the bottle. Poulter made a putt on the final green at Royal Birkdale in 2008 for a closing 69 that might have won him The Open.

At the time, he had no idea that Irishman Padraig Harrington was going to tear through the back nine to win with ease. In his head, at the time of that 12-footer, it was a major-winning putt - and he delivered.

The most recent of his 17 professional wins came at last year's Houston Open to earn him a place at the 2018 Masters. Every other avenue to Augusta had been exhausted.

He had come tantalisingly close when he was a losing quarter-finalist in the WGC Match Play the previous week, but this was a typically gutsy response.

The win got him to the first major of 2018 and he has played every one since as that victory firmly re-established him in the world's top 50.

Playing both the American and European circuits, Poulter has not missed a cut since September.

He is playing with increasing confidence, regularly putting himself in position without quite finding the winning touch in the way he would like - not that setbacks like these would overtly shake a man of such renowned self-belief.

And, potentially significantly for the future of British golf, those Poulter qualities may beneficially rub off on Horsfield this week.

The 22-year-old Orlando-based Mancunian has a fantastic opportunity to witness them up close in the rarefied air of the PGA Tour. If Horsfield can assimilate them into his own highly promising game, he will enjoy a career of real substance.

This week, it is not Poulter and Woods. Instead the Englishman has a young compatriot at his side, and it is a fair guess he would love nothing more than for the chat to be all about them.


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