Poulter continues his dance into the Masters spotlight
Ian Poulter is not the type to cringe in embarrassment when seeing images of himself being played on loop on the American networks.
Indeed, it is fair to assume that the Englishman revelled as the world watched re-run after re-run of Thursday's hole-in-one. He certainly appeared hell-bent yesterday on continuing his golfing dance in the spotlight.
A second-round 69 cast Poulter into glaring contention of the 72nd Masters. In a tie for third, he is just three behind the halfway leader, his friend Trevor Immelman, and has never looked so good, regardless of the pink slacks. There might not have been quite the excitement of the first round when he aced the 16th – yesterday, he was all of six feet away for his birdie at what he calls "my favourite par-three on earth" – but there was plenty of the exquisite ball-striking.
In fact, the more Poulter performs in this vein, the less his "I will be world No 2" claim will be ridiculed. Boastful? Undoubtedly. Impossible? Far from it. The odd Tiger apart, there is not another golfer who believes in his own powers as much as Poulter. As the saying goes "he is daft enough to win a major". Especially in this form.
What may also assist him, and everyone else for that matter, is the shaky standing of the world No 1. If Tiger Woods is to don his fifth green jacket tomorrow evening he will have to effect the second biggest comeback after two rounds in Masters history.
After a courageous 71, Woods is seven behind. Nobody dares count him out, certainly not Poulter. "Who knows with Tiger," he said. "He can go out there and put two 65s on the board. We've all seen it before."
Still, at least Britain has two other members in the top dozen to help repel Woods's inevitable charge. A double-bogey seven on the 13th might have ruined Lee Westwood's day, but at two-under he is far from done. Not on this course where shots can be picked up and lost with equal haste. Just ask Paul Casey who conjured four birdies on the back nine yesterday to stride to four-under.
Ever since finishing sixth here on his debut in 2004, Casey has been marked out on the starting sheet as a player eminently suited to Augusta. This 69 earned his name a further stroke under the highlighter pen.
An already uplifting round was raised that much higher when the 30-year-old calmly slotted in an eight-footer for birdie on the 18th. It was the turnaround for which Casey had been praying after a miserable few months when he tumbled out of the world's top 20. "I hoped my game was on the up, as I haven't played any good golf this year," said Casey after five birdies and two bogeys. "But I was so looking forwarding to this week that I thought it might happen, particularly after two weeks of really good preparation. We can finally get this season underway now. Four off the lead is well in contention."
The sight of so many his young countrymen up there – Nick Dougherty is at one-under after four birdies in the final six holes gave the debutant a 69 – would have certainly been to Ian Woosnam's satisfaction. After carding his own 71, which saw the Welshman make his first Masters cut since 2000, the former Europe Ryder Cup captain implored the Brit pack to make the most of their stirring start and so set themselves up to end the Masters drought that now stretches back to Nick Faldo's third victory in 1996. "They've got to keep it going," said Woosnam. "It's no good leading or being up there after the first two rounds and that being it. They've got to go on from here now. I firmly believe they've only got themselves to beat."
Alas, Justin Rose, the overnight leader, will feel he has already done just that, thanks to an inexplicable error on the par five 15th. Rose was only 80 yards from the pin but could only hit a lob-wedge 60 yards into the water. The 27-year-old finished with a treble-bogey eight on his way to a 78 and at two-over is all but out of it.
There are just too many decent professionals in his way, not least Phil Mickelson. The world No 2 is on five-under and is a hugely intimidating presence considering his recent Augusta run. Not even Woods can claim to have won here twice in the last four years and the manner in which Mickelson cruised to a 68 suggested that a quickfire hat-trick is more than a mere possibility.
And then there is Immelman. Masters folklore already has it that the South African made a decidedly successful reconnaissance trip to Augusta a fortnight ago with Rose and Poulter. All three live within a lob-wedge at Lake Nona, the gated Orlando community, and like all of Immelman's neighbours, their support was invaluable during some mightily dark days at the backend of last year.
A week after winning in Sun City in December, he was playing at the South Africa Open when the discomfort he felt around his ribcage suddenly made it difficult to breathe. He withdrew and was rushed to hospital the next day where emergency surgery revealed a tumour the size of a golf-ball on his diaphragm. Then came the waiting as tests were undertaken. "It took a couple of days to get the results back, so that was pretty hair-raising, but luckily enough it was all benign and it was removed," recalled the 28-year-old."You kind of go from feeling bullet-proof to lying in a hospital bed wondering if things are going to go your way. It was scary."
It took him two weeks to walk again, but within six he was back on the course. Now he is back reigning supreme, but with a permanent reminder of his troubles. It is a reminder that a few fellow pros are still asking to peek at. "Yeah, Sergio Garcia did earlier this week," laughed Immelman. "I had about a seven-inch incision. I still can't quite believe it's happened to me. Sometimes when you get out of the shower and you see this long scar on your back, it's kind of really bizarre."
Complete first-round scores
US unless stated
T Immelman (SA), J Rose (Eng)
L Westwood (Eng), B Snedeker, B Bateman
R Karlsson (Swe), J Furyk, Z Johnson, I Poulter (Eng), S Ames (Can)
J M Singh (Ind), A Oberholser, H Slocum, P Lonard (Aus), P Casey (Eng), P Mickelson, M O'Meara, R Goosen (SA)
J Kelly, T Woods, A Romero (Arg), S Flesch, S Cink, V Singh (Fiji), D Chopra (Swe), J Leonard, R Allenby (Aus), S O'Hair, KJ Choi (S Kor), B Weekley, S Lyle (Sco), J Wagner
S Stricker, B Langer (Ger), D Toms, A Cabrera (Arg), M Thompson, J B Holmes, M Calcavecchia, M Weir (Can), C Villegas (Col), B Wetterich, L Donald (Eng), R Sterne (SA).
A Baddeley (Aus), E Els (SA), N Dougherty (Eng), B Watson, T Hamilton, N O'Hern (Aus), He Stenson (Swe), P Harrington (Irl)
N Watney, R Sabbatini (SA), A Scott (Aus), V Taylor, T Watson, S Hansen (Den), B Crenshaw, G Ogilvy (Aus), B Curtis, N Fasth (Swe), I Woosnam (Wal), J Byrd
M Kaymer (Ger), DJ Trahan, T Taniguchi (Japan), F Couples, J-M Olazabal (Sp), S Garcia (Sp), S Micheel, Wen-chong Liang (Ch), D Weaver, S Appleby (Aus)
M Campbell (NZ), C Stadler, H Mahan, J Rollins, M A Jimenez (Sp), R Green (Aus), L Mize, S Verplank, T Clark (SA)
T Kuehne, C Howell III
W Austin, S Katayama (Japan)
A Hansen (Den), R Floyd, J Senden (Aus)
S Lowery, F Zoeller
P Marksaeng (Thai)
G Player (SA)
Early second round scores
T Immelman (SA) 68 68
B Snedeker 69 68
S Flesch 72 67, P Mickelson 71 68, I Poulter (GB) 70 69
S Ames (Can) 70 70, P Casey (GB) 71 69
S Cink 72 69, A Oberholser 71 70, M Weir (Can) 73 68
R Goosen (SA) 71 71, L Westwood (GB) 69 73
S O'Hair 72 71, J Holmes 73 70, V Singh (Fiji) 72 71, J Furyk 70 73, R Karlsson (Swe) 70 73, N Dougherty (GB) 74 69 T Woods 72 71
A Romero (SA) 72 72
B Bateman 69 76, N Fasth (Swe) 75 70, B Watson 74 71, R Sterne (SA) 73 72, N Watney 75 70 P Harrington (Ire) 74 71 J Singh (Ind) 71 74, A Cabrera (Arg) 73 72
I Woosnam (Wal) 75 71, J Wagner 72 74, B Weekley 72 74, A Scott (Aus) 75 71, J Leonard 72 74, R Allenby (Aus) 72 74, Z Johnson 70 76, G Ogilvy 75 71, J Rose (GB) 68 78
T Hamilton 74 73, S Lyle (GB) 72 75, D Toms 73 74, K Choi (S Kor) 72 75, H Slocum 71 76
S Garcia (Sp) 76 72, A Baddeley (Aus) 75 73, E Els (SA) 74 74, B Wetterich 73 75, C Howell III 78 70 M Campbell (NZ) 77 71 F Couples 76 72 L Donald (GB) 73 75
C Stadler 77 72, J Byrd 75 74, M O'Meara 71 78, H Mahan 77 72
J Rollins 77 73, D Chopra (Swe) 72 78, T Watson 75 75, J Rollins 77 73, S Stricker 73 77, C Villegas (Col) 73 77, B Curtis 75 75, S Micheel 76 74, *T Kuehne 78 72
J Senden (Aus) 80 71, B Langer (Ger) 74 71
R Green (Aus) 77 75, W Austin 79 73, T Clark (SA) 77 75, S Katayama (Japan) 79 73, P Lonard (Aus) 71 81
M Calcavecchia 73 80, S Hansen (Den) 75 78
R Floyd 80 74
*D Weaver 76 80
L Mize 77 81
F Zoeller 81 79
G Player 83 78
* denotes amateur