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Sting of finish lingers for Poulter

Englishman held tie for first place after cut, but mistakes were costly

Friday, April 01, 2011

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Ian Poulter left Augusta angry last year. He comes back with a little something to prove.

Poulter (Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

His best finish in six Masters starts was no comfort for the Englishman who was co-leader with Lee Westwood after 36 holes.

"I'm not happy walking away from this golf course finishing 10th," he said after following up consecutive 68s with rounds of 74 and 73. "I'm pretty mad right now. I've got every reason to be. I was leading on Friday. I didn't play at all (Saturday). I played well (Sunday), and I'm not happy."

On a course where he never has missed the cut, Poulter believes he is inching closer to securing a cubby in the Champions Locker Room. Each missed opportunity inspires him a bit more to win a green jacket that golf's foremost fashion maven believes goes with "absolutely anything."

"I've been in contention and not finished it off," he said. "Yeah, there is a burning desire in there to make sure I can actually rectify those mistakes."

The mistakes on the weekend last year still stick in his craw. For all the tools he possesses for success at Augusta National Golf Club, Poulter got in his own way when it counted while Westwood and eventual champion Phil Mickelson surged ahead.

"I'm very comfortable around there," he said. "I'm happy shaping shots. I'm happy with my short game. I think I'm a good putter on fast greens. I've driven the ball pretty straight over the last couple of years. I feel it's a golf course where I have a good chance.

"But (on Saturday) I hit a couple of tee shots left, and that's not me. That probably got me a little bit rattled, and therefore I was trying to think about it on the course. Left is not an option for me. So I got out of position and I pressed, and Augusta National does not play well when you start pressing. It will bite you."

Poulter has been bitten before. In 2008, he put himself in the hunt Sunday with two quick birdies but then posted doubles on Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 11 to free-fall to 78 and a tie for 25th.

"You have to learn," he said. "It's a risk and reward golf course. If you drive it pretty straight, you're always going to be in position, but from there on it's risk and reward. If you're going to go for certain pins and you miss it in the wrong spot, you are going to be heavily punished. You can't afford to do that around Augusta National and have an under-par score.

"You have to play careful, you have to know when to attack and you have to know when to back off. And you have to accept limitations. If you short side yourself, you have to accept making bogey and move on."

Poulter embraces the benefits of his experiences. It took him12 Masters rounds to break par. He has had six subpar rounds in his 12 turns around the course since.

"There are a lot of shots that I didn't feel I was very comfortable pulling off six years ago, but certainly I am now," he said. "I am more aggressive on the golf course, and you have to be aggressive to your targets around this place. You can't let this course intimidate you too much, because you'll back away from the shots you should be taking on. I'm hitting the ball well, and my game is a lot better than what it was."

Poulter has developed a reputation as a clutch putter from his victory in the 2010 WGC-Match Play Championship and his performances in recent Ryder Cups. Trying out a half-dozen putters before the Honda Classic in March, he practiced the same 25-foot putt over and over and sank about 30 in a row.

It's a skill that comes in handy in the majors, where he has missed only four cuts in 32 starts, with a high finish of runner-up in the 2008 British Open.

He would like to finish one off, and Augusta seems as good a venue as any.

"To be playing Augusta was in my dreams, and to be sitting at the top of the leaderboards was in my dreams as well," he said halfway through last year's Masters.

He is determined to leave happy.

"I know I can get myself in position on that golf course," he said.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

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