Poulter in the pink to hold off Casey
It was St George's Day in the Sonoran Desert yesterday as Ian Poulter slayed Paul Casey for the honour of becoming England's first winner at golf's World Championships.
Sadly, just a few hundred people were drawn to the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on Dove Mountain to watch Poulter see off Casey by 4&2 in the 36-hole final of the $8.5m Accenture Match Play Championship.
This is the stark reality of World Championship Golf without Tiger Woods — a sparse attendance and a venue devoid of atmosphere, regardless of the high-class fare served up by the combatants.
The outlook for the game in Woods' absence is as cold and bleak as the stormy weather in south west Arizona over the weekend. However, an exchange between a reporter and a source very close to Woods as they bade farewell to each other after Tiger's monologue in Sawgrass last Friday strongly suggested the current trough might not last as long as people fear.
In his address, a contrite, downcast Woods gave the distinct impression his quest for rehabilitation would be counted in months rather than weeks.
Yet as one of the three news agency reporters admitted to the inner-sanctum for Tiger's speech parted with a polite “see you” to one member of the player's inner-circle, the reply came: “It could be sooner than you think.”
Only two Europeans have won at the World Golf Championships — Darren Clarke (winner of this title at La Costa in 2000 and the NEC Invitational in 2003) and Henrik Stenson (Accenture Match Play champion in 2007).
Yet Poulter and Casey, Ryder Cup skipper Nick Faldo's two Wild Cards for Valhalla, dominated and underscored the raw match play power which will be at Colin Montgomerie's disposal next October.
And with yesterday's winner guaranteed fifth place in the world and the runner-up taking sixth in the rankings, Europe now have six players in the top-10, including Lee Westwood (fourth), Martin Kaymer seventh, Rory McIlroy (ninth) and Padraig Harrington (10th).
While Poulter steered the shortest route ever through the Accenture Match Play semi-finals on Saturday, annihilating Sergio Garcia 7&6, Casey had to return to the golf course at first light yesterday to finish off Colombia's Camilo Villegas, who won the third place play-off with Sergio Garcia 5&4.
Poulter led Casey by two at the halfway stage of their 36-hole shoot-out and it could have been better for the former, dressed head to toe in pink for the day. He was four up after 14 but Casey made a seven-foot birdie putt on the next and Poulter three-putted the last.
Lunching two down meant it was still all to play for but Poulter birdied the next two holes from 15 and six feet and, despite twos from Casey at the 21st and 24th the gap was three at the turn.
It was game on again when Casey made a 14-footer on the 28th, but Poulter got up and down on the next two to preserve a two-up lead.
He moved into pole position on the 33rd, when he chipped from off the green to within inches to move three ahead with three to play and when Casey failed to chip in from the bunker to save the match at the next, it was all over.