FORT WORTH, Texas – At this rate, every golfer will want the “overrated” label.
Two weeks ago, just after a Sports Illustrated poll named him as one of the two most overrated players on the PGA Tour, Rickie Fowler answered his critics by winning THE PLAYERS Championship.
Joining Fowler atop that poll – which was based on anonymous responses by Tour pros – is Ian Poulter. And now the Englishman is two rounds away from also getting the last laugh.
Poulter is solo second at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial after his 3-under 67 on Friday. At 8 under through two rounds, he’s two shots off the lead held by Kevin Na, who’ll be one of his Saturday playing partners in the final group.
In contention and playing well, Poulter is clearly enjoying his opportunity to address the “overrated” poll.
“He’s taken care of his business,” Poulter said of Fowler. “It’s time for me to take care of mine.”
Despite 16 professional wins and his enviable Ryder Cup success, Poulter has never won a stroke-play event in the United States. He has won two World Golf Championships events – the 2010 Cadillac Match Play and the 2012 HSBC Champions in China.
Of his four runner-up finishes on Tour, just one came in a stroke-play event in the States. That was the 2009 PLAYERS Championship, when he finished four strokes behind Henrik Stenson.
Those raw numbers, especially compared to his success across the rest of the world, may partially explain the ‘overrated’ label from his peers.
But Poulter, as you might suspect from a guy with 1.89 million Twitter followers, is quite comfortable in his own skin.
“Do you think I pay a lot of attention to what people think?” he said. “1.89 million people? I mean, seriously. Come on, it’s water off a duck’s back. … It’s actually become quite funny, to be honest, so I take it a little bit tongue-in-cheek.”
If Poulter is finally going to win a stateside stroke-play event, Colonial seems to be an excellent fit. Nine of his first 10 rounds at the classic course were under par, and he tied for ninth in 2009.
But Poulter hasn’t played here since 2010, as he’s usually playing the European Tour’s signature event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. It’s a tournament he’d love to win but held at a course that doesn’t suit his game. Yet he’s played the event in order to meet the European Tour’s rules regarding home events.
This year, a new addition to the European Tour schedule is the British Masters, set for early October in Woburn. Poulter is hosting the tournament – and thus, that qualifies as his home tournament.
“So therefore, I don’t have to play Wentworth,” Poulter explained. “They would like me to play Wentworth. I personally would like to play Wentworth. I’ll be honest. But it’s a golf course which hasn’t been too kind to me over the years. My performances haven’t been very good there.
“The last time I was here (in Fort Worth), I played pretty well, and obviously the addition with that tournament allowed me to come back and play.”
Last month when Poulter announced his decision to skip the BMW PGA, he explained it – of course – through his Twitter account. Some of his European Tour peers were not pleased, and that resulted in a series of Tweets that created some unnecessary (but interesting) drama.
But he’s here now and in excellent shape. Not only is he playing a course he likes, but he’s found a new putting grip that works.
Actually, it’s not a new grip at all, but one that Poulter has used before.
In the process of building a guest house next to his family’s U.S. residence in Florida, Poulter was going through some boxes stuffed with old photos, hoping to find some suitable for framing. “There’s a lot of walls to fill,” he said.
He found a photo from one of his more successful tournaments. It showed a putting grip in which the forefinger on his left hand was angled more parallel to the shot than down.
Poulter practiced with the old grip on Wednesday and has used it for the first two rounds this week. The result? He’s needed just 25 putts in each round and ranks first in strokes gained: putting.
“The nice thing is I’ve been searching for something for several months,” Poulter said. “And this might be the thing that gets my putting back on track.
“It’s probably only a position of a half-inch difference to what it was, but sometimes a half-inch makes a big difference on feel.”
And sometimes a bit of motivation and a change in playing schedule can make a big difference in someone’s performance. If Poulter goes on to win this week, the “overrated” label will be someone else’s problem. Expect plenty of applicants.