Two years ago Ian Poulter boasted that golf would one day be ruled by Tiger Woods and Ian Poulter, a bold prediction that came to fruition for a short time last week in the Arizona desert. Two days after Woods addressed his scandal, an event that hovered over the Accenture Match Play Championship like a dust cloud, Poulter proved that he was much more than a Twitter-happy Brit in bright pants as he won his first PGA Tour event with a 4-and-2 victory over Paul Casey on Sunday.
Poulter, a 34-year-old Englishman prone to fits of sartorial excess, said he didn't watch Woods's speech, the better to focus on himself and avoid questions from the media, a fate that fell to competitors alternately peeved at Woods for making his announcement during the tournament and sympathetic to his plight.
Poulter busied himself with other pursuits—he spent his early mornings ironing his outfits (a white-and-turquoise combo for the first round, a pink ensemble for the finals), his evenings drawing a warm bath and the rest of his day splitting fairways that were lined by cactuses as tall as brownstones.
"I felt as if I should have been here before now," Poulter said of his maiden victory on U.S. soil, "but it's nice waiting for this one."
Poulter admitted that the wait was excruciating at times—"I was beating myself up every event," he said—and that the delay was in no small part due to a statement he made two years ago, while ranked No. 22 in the world. "Don't get me wrong, I respect everyone who is a professional," Poulter said then. "But the problem is I haven't played to my full potential yet. And when that happens, it will just be me and Tiger."
Poulter was ridiculed. "For Ian, he'll tell you exactly what he's thinking," says Casey, Poulter's friend and a fellow Englishman. "But if Ian believes that—and he does—then there's no reason why he couldn't get to that spot, because for me it's not about talent, it's about work ethic and belief and the rest of it."
While Poulter, who rose to No. 5 in the world, has won eight European tour titles, his biggest moment might have come at the end of the 2008 season, when he justified Euro Ryder Cup captain Nick Faldo's making him a wild-card pick by going 4--1 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville. With a straight tee ball, an improved short game and a putting stroke that you could set a lullaby to, Poulter stands to continue contending for big trophies.
But with Woods out indefinitely, Poulter may have to find someone else with whom he can rule the world.
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Following Tiger Woods's apology last Friday, SI surveyed GOLF MAGAZINE's Top 100 Teachers for their take on the situation.
Has your opinion of Woods gone up, down or remained the same?
"He is an embarrassment to the game."
—Shawn Humphries, Cowboys Golf Club, Grapevine, Texas
When Woods rejoins the Tour, will his game be better, worse or the same?
"Better. How could 18 girlfriends and a wife not be a distraction?"
—Mike Lopuszynski, David Glenz Golf Academy, Franklin, N.J.
Did the game take a hit because of L'Affaire Tigre?
"Tangibly in dollars, intangibly in all of the people—especially kids—who looked up to him."
—Todd Sones, Impact Golf, Vernon Hills, Ill.
PRETTY IN PINK Poulter needed just 114 holes to win six matches, second only to Woods's 112 in 2003.