GLENEAGLES, Scotland (AP) — Nothing about Ian Poulter suggests he belongs in the same conversation as Seve Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie.
Ballesteros was a five-time major champion, a genius with a club in his hand, so full of passion that he inspired an entire continent. Montgomerie was Europe’s best player for a decade, an eight-time winner of the Order of Merit.
Poulter is not in the league.
Then again, the reference Thursday was not just about golf. It was about the Ryder Cup.
Poulter talks about his pride in wearing the Europe team shirt. The way he plays in these matches, his uniform should come with a cape.
“I think how I’ve performed in the last number of Ryder Cup … if I really have to sit back and think about it, I’m very proud of that,” he said Thursday. “Very proud of my record and proud that I’ve put a lot of blue on the board. I’m passionate as a team player. And yeah, to be mentioned with the likes of Seve and Monty and those players is an absolute honor.”
Ballesteros remains the symbol of European success in the Ryder Cup. Montgomerie never lost in eight singles matches.
Poulter has won seven straight matches dating to Celtic Manor in 2010, and he was the catalyst in Europe’s great comeback at Medinah two years ago. He went 4-0, and closed with five straight birdies in the final team session that gave Europe momentum it carried into the final day.
That’s what led Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood to suggest Europe change its criteria to nine qualifiers, two captain’s picks and Poulter.
As for those 103 weeks when he’s not in the Ryder Cup?
Ian Poulter might as well be Clark Kent.
Sure, he has won a pair of World Golf Championships, among 14 titles worldwide. He has never won a stroke-play event in America. He has never won a major, and only twice has he been considered a threat in the majors on the back nine.
The Ryder Cup is different.
His overall record is 12-3, the best winning percentage among Europeans who have played on at least four teams. Perhaps that’s why U.S. captain Tom Watson has singled him out on a European team that features the No. 1 player in the world and four major champions.
“We’ve got a lot of players to look at,” Watson said. “But Poulter, I think Ian with his record … he is an 80 percent victor over the series of matches he’s played in. We’d like to reduce that.”
The difference now is that Poulter has never received as much attention as this year. Everyone knows his prowess in match play, particularly the Ryder Cup. Still, the focus was on Rory McIlroy as the No. 1 player in the world at Medinah. It was on Lee Westwood, on the verge of becoming No. 1 in the world, at Celtic Manor. It was on double major champion Padraig Harrington at Valhalla.
“I think Ian is up for it, as always,” McDowell said. “I was hitting balls with him at Lake Nona last week on the range. I’ve never seen a guy so charged up 10, 11 days before a Ryder Cup. The guy is just fizzed. It’s very infectious to be around that type of passion. He embraces the ‘Mr. Ryder Cup’ role. … I expect him to be himself this week and be up for it, and probably back it up with some great golf.
“Poults is just Poults, so he’ll be ready. Bring it on.”
The concern is Poulter’s form. He hasn’t won since the HSBC Champions nearly two years ago. He started the year at No. 12 in the world. Now he is No. 38, his lowest ranking going into a Ryder Cup since his debut in 2004.
No one on the European team seems worried, including Justin Rose, who has played with him in practice this week.
“He’s on the verge of playing very, very well,” Rose said. “He just needs a spark, and the spark could well be the Ryder Cup.”
Rose said they played a Skins game on Wednesday and Poulter was shut after 16 holes. The caddies were needling him about not getting a skin.
“And then he goes and birdies 17 and holes a bunker shot at the last and takes the last four skins,” Rose said. “You know he’s in his element. So when his back is against the wall, he normally produces, which is great.”
Even in a team uniform, Poulter manages to stand out. It’s all about the eyes. They appear to pop out of the sockets when he’s making big putts. It’s all part of his emotion that Poulter sees no reason to control. Not at the Ryder Cup.
“You’ve been waiting for it for a long time, so you just need to grab hold of it and let it go, and that’s what you see — that’s what you see when I play in this format,” Poulter said. “I love what it stands for and I don’t think you need to calm that down. I think you need to just grab hold of it and use every bit you get.”