Friday, 19 March 2010
WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship - Final Round  (Getty Images)
WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship - Final Round (Getty Images)

Ian Poulter led Paul Casey by two at the halfway stage of their 36-hole all-English final at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.

And it could have been better for Poulter. He was four up after 14 but Casey - runner-up in the event to Australian Geoff Ogilvy last year - made a seven foot birdie putt on the next and Poulter three putted the last.

"I'm in a good position and I want to get some food and play some good golf," said Poulter.

"I'm hitting a lot of fairways and putting myself in position. If I do that, I'll make it tough on Paul, but he's a good player and we should have some fun out there."

Casey commented: "Two down is better than four down. There's a long way to go - Ian knows that, I know that."

The pair were competing not just for the title and a difference in prize money of almost €400,000 - the winner's cheque was €1,019,635 and the runner-up received €619,064 - but also the World Number Five spot.

Poulter, dressed in all pink, had the added incentive of trying for his first victory on American soil.

Casey, who achieved that in Houston last April, first had to get past Colombian Camilo Villegas at the start of the day.

Their semi-final was halted after 23 holes on Saturday because of fading light but, on the resumption, Villegas snap-hooked his opening drive into the desert scrub and Casey, lucky to escape when his opponent missed from less than three feet on the green before, won with a par four.

Minutes later he was teeing off again and a conceded eagle on the long second, where he struck a 216 yard approach to eight feet, took him ahead.

However, Poulter birdied the next from seven feet and on the seventh he holed again from 12 feet and saw Casey miss from eight.

After the tenth and 11th were exchanged, Casey found himself three down for the first time in the week when Poulter chipped to seven feet at the long 13th and a bogey on the next stretched the gap even more.

Losing another hole at that point would have turned a drama into a crisis for Casey but he got back into the match over the closing stretch of the morning round.

Whatever the result, it had been an astonishing performance by The European Tour’s Members. They provided seven of the last eight and a clean sweep in the semi-finals, with this the first time two Europeans had contested the final.

While Casey was an amateur star - English champion two years running, Walker Cup partner of Luke Donald, world team championship runner-up and American college winner - Poulter's story is very, very different.

Two years older at 34, he turned professional in 1994 with a four handicap and with no national honours.

He wanted to play on Tour but did not make it through the Qualifying School until the fourth attempt. Casey never even had to attend the school, winning the circuit's Scottish PGA title at Gleneagles on only the 11th start of his rookie season and thereby earning an exemption.

While he dreamed of such things, Poulter worked in the pro shop at the Hitchin club Jack o'Legs, named after a character from folk legend who lived in a cave and was famed for robbing the rich to give to the poor.

Yet once he finally got his card, Poulter - now worth millions himself - was a winner in his first season as well. The Italian Open helped him become Rookie of the Year for 2000 and his name is on that trophy just above Casey's.

Off and running, he had five more wins in the next four years and made his Ryder Cup debut along with Casey in the 2004 victory in Detroit.

Casey suffered a slump after that, including a first round 85 at the US Open Championship and quitting the event, but, after overcoming that, he climbed all the way to third in the world last year - after he and Poulter were Nick Faldo's two wild cards for the last Ryder Cup - by winning in the Middle East, America and then at Wentworth in the BMW PGA Championship.

A torn rib muscle, suffered practising for The Open Championship, took him out of the game, but, although he says he has been told it could take a year to repair fully, he is now playing pain-free - and playing well.

He did not have to go beyond the 14th hole in his first four games this week but then had his incredible tussle with Villegas.

Poulter went to an extra hole in his first match with American Justin Leonard but after that gained in confidence to such an extent that come the semi-finals he defeated Sergio Garcia 7 and 6.

Poulter regained his firm grip with a 15 footer on the 19th and then a 106 yard pitch to six feet at the next for another birdie.

With Casey missing from 12 feet and failing to get up and down, Poulter was four up again, but Casey kept his hopes alive with a 32 foot birdie putt on the next.

Casey made twos on both the 21st and 24th - he almost aced the second of those - but with Poulter making an eight foot birdie at the 22nd and Casey taking three from the edge of the 25th the gap was back to four with 11 left.

Villegas looked like taking third spot when he moved three up on Garcia after eight.

Both birdied the par five 26th, but Casey got one back again when Poulter putted off the front of the next green and bogeyed.

It was three up with nine to play as a result.

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.

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