Last week at the WGC-Dell Match Play, Ian Poulter was told he had earned enough World Rankings points for a Masters invitation after winning his round of 16 match against Louis Oosthuizen. Not long after, but prior to his quarterfinal match, he was told that the numbers were actually wrong and he needed another win to be at Augusta, a pretty demoralising message to receive before heading out to try and play more good golf.
Understandably, the Englishman struggled against Kevin Kisner, losing 8&6 and missing out on a prime chance to earn a spot at Augusta. There was only one more way to get to Georgia; he’d have to win this week’s Houston Open, a prospect that didn’t look too promising after a first-round 73.
But Poulter has rebounded in incredible fashion, playing his next 36 holes in 15-under par, including a Saturday seven-under 65 at the Golf Club of Houston that has given him a share of the lead with Beau Hossler at 14-under 202. Poulter made sure to use his lacklustre first round as motivation.
“I had to pack my suitcase because potentially I was flying home on Friday, and you never like to do that. So I was frustrated with not really my play on Thursday but just the result. It wasn’t good,” Poulter said. “So, a bit of patience, open my shoulders a little bit on my putting stroke, started to visually see the right line, and just started to roll a few putts in. Continued that obviously into today, it feels good, hopefully I can go out tomorrow and do exactly the same. Who knows.”
Poulter, who has not made a bogey in his last 41 holes in Houston, ranks 11th in the field in strokes gained/putting, a stat he ranked 201st on tour entering the week.
“It’s just nice to stand over putts and actually feel and see the line you really want to start the ball on,” he said. “That hasn’t really been happening for a while, so to start holing a few putts is great.”
A few more putts going in on Sunday could not only give Poulter his first worldwide victory in more than six years, but it would also earn him that coveted spot in the Masters, an event he competed in for 10 straight years before missing last year.
He’ll have to hold off a number of talented players, including tour rookie Hossler, whose three-under 69 earned him a spot in Sunday’s final group with Poulter. It was an important round for the former University of Texas All-American, who ranked 93rd on tour in third-round scoring average and has struggled to stay in contention on multiple occasions this season. Six times Hossler has shot three straight sub-par rounds to open a tournament, but has yet to make it four straight in any of those events. Indeed, Hossler’s final-round scoring average is 73.40. A victory would be the first of his career on any tour.
Four players are at 12-under 204, and among them is Australia’s Greg Chalmers, who matched Poulter’s seven-under 65 for the low round on Saturday. The 44-year-old lefty has teed it up in 13 events this season, missing nine cuts and finishing inside the top 25 just once at the Honda Classic. He’s joined by Kevin Tway, Paul Dunne and Emilano Grillo.
Henrik Stenson sits just three back at 11-under 205 after carding a three-under 69. Jordan Spieth’s one-under 71 puts him at 10-under 206, while Rickie Fowler fell back to nine-under 207 after posting a one-over 73.