Ewen Murray welcomes the resurgence of Ian Poulter at The Players
Last Updated: 03/08/17 1:54pm
After another dramatic edition of The Players at TPC Sawgrass, Ewen Murray welcomes the return to form of Ian Poulter and looks forward to another big week at the new-look Wentworth.
Whether you're a fan of Sawgrass or otherwise, there's no denying that, year after year, The Players Championship delivers drama of the highest quality and the 2017 edition was no exception.
In Si Woo Kim they have a wonderful champion. The youngest player, at just 17 years of age, to have come through the now-defunct Qualifying School, is now the youngest to claim the PGA Tour's crown jewel at their headquarters.
Sunday's final round of 15 pars and three birdies was masterful, a display any seasoned professional would rightly be proud of. Kim won the championship in style and, in claiming his second victory in America, he joins Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth in winning twice before the age of 22.
The last Presidents Cup was played in his homeland of South Korea and I'm sure he would have watched most of it. This year, he will take his place in Nick Price's International team at Liberty National just outside of the Big Apple in September.
He has a five-year Tour exemption, entry into the majors and the World Golf Championships for the foreseeable future and of course, the riches of the FedExCup play-offs to look forward to in the autumn. Not at all bad when you think he only got the key to the door a few months ago!
Almost twice his age, it was a defining week for England's Ian Poulter, who was runner-up to Kim alongside South African, Louis Oosthuizen. I don't think I'm alone in rejoicing at Ian's change in fortunes during May.
Having missed the cut in San Antonio, his future looked bleak until veteran player, Brian Gay, spotted a discrepancy in calculating points won during a medical exemption. Having been reprieved and reinstated to the Tour, it was a welcome boost and one Ian made the most of in northern Florida.
I had a run-in with Ian when he was selected for the 2008 Ryder Cup side. I was of the opinion he didn't deserve to be awarded a wild card given his performances that year. We sorted that out quickly and I wished him the best for the week at Valhalla. He played brilliantly over the three days even though Europe lost to Paul Azinger's American side.
Last year we shared the commentary box at Sky's first Open Championship at Royal Troon. His passion and enthusiasm was infectious, although I could see he was hurting at being away from the game due to a foot injury.
Since then, he has had much to deal with. The collapse of his clothing company would have been traumatic, he had to deal with some issues of poor construction of his house that affected his family, and then, of course, the loss of his playing privileges, albeit for a short time.
Ian is anything but brash. He's a positive lad who reaches for the stars, aims for the top. That is to be admired
Some think Ian is brash, he's anything but that. He's a positive lad who reaches for the stars, aims for the top. That is to be admired and I imagine a large majority across the United Kingdom were supporting him last Sunday night.
There was strong criticism of Ian from the excellent Golf Channel presenter, Brandel Chamblee. That criticism, I believe, was misplaced. I like Brandel a lot. He has an opinion which he is never scared to voice and he is respected immensely Stateside. He thought Ian didn't play to win. By not going for the par-five in two, not taking on the flag at 17, and playing safe up the right side of 18.
At 16, Ian had to wait some considerable time to play his second from the right rough. Now that green is a tiny target from the fairway, let alone from the second cut. Poulter chose to try and make a birdie four by laying up. At 17 last week, 69 golf balls found their way into the pond. The greens were firm and with that final round pin placement, only those not in contention took the flag on. Had Ian found the water, the game was up.
Having made two pars at 16 and 17, he kept the heat on Kim, who, with one mistake, would open the door. Ian's tee shot at 18 was sensible and certainly playable, but the second was as bad as the fourth shot was good.
Going for 16 and 17 had no positive guarantees and in the group behind him was a 21-year-old who, up until last week, was having a poor season. Kim's all-round ranking going into The Players was 208th.
Several players have lost the championship going for the flag at 17. Len Mattiace took an eight there a few years ago. Ian didn't lose The Players by making poor decisions, he got his career back and challenged all the way to the 72nd hole. Kim won it with one of the best final rounds in the history of the event.
There were so many moments to savour at Sawgrass. Rafael Cabrera Bello's finish was from Disney World. Albatross, birdie, par - eight shots for the last three holes. At the other end of the spectrum, the joint leader going into the last round, JB Holmes used up eight shots at 17 alone en route to an 84, the highest final round on Tour by a 54-hole leader.
Only three Americans finished in the top 10, while seven players from other nations made up the top 10, confirming the rude health the game is in currently.
Finally, course designers should take a close look at Pete Dye's Sawgrass. It's 7,180 yards long with a premium on shot making, accuracy and touch. It's a place that has no respect for reputations as a few of the recent world No 1s will confirm. The Players presents a magnificent spectacle and that is down to the theatre as much as the actors.
Europe takes centre stage next week as the Tour's headquarters on this side of the pond present the BMW PGA Championship. Like Sawgrass, Wentworth has undergone extensive renovations with a new strain of grass on the famous greens of the West course.
The introduction of 007 creeping bent means the grass will grow at the same rate making bumpy spring greens a thing of the past. By all accounts, the course has never looked better with new bunkering framing the fairways.
The field is a strong one with Justin Rose, and back permitting, Rory McIlroy headlining the field. A full house will add much to what is one of the golfing world's best events and extensive coverage, including a preview programme with action from the pro-am will be across our channels over the five days.
With Ian Poulter back inside the top 100 of the world rankings, wouldn't it complete a wonderful month should he go one better in Surrey?