Date: September 21, 2008

Poulter sparks fightback

No Lee Westwood or Sergio Garcia in the morning and no Padraig Harrington after lunch – all big calls by captain Nick Faldo – but Europe is still alive and kicking going into the Ryder Cup singles at Valhalla. Trailing by three points after the first day, Faldo&aposs side remains behind, but 9-7 gives real hope of making it an unprecedented fourth successive victory with 12 games to come. The Europeans need seven points to retain the trophy, while the Americans require 5 1/2 points. The man mainly responsible for it is the man whose place in the side was most questioned. Ian Poulter has won three of his four games, is joint top-scorer with American debutant Hunter Mahan – who reckoned players were used as &aposslaves&apos for the week – and deserves even more credit for that than for his Open Championship second place in July. After partnering Justin Rose to a second successive victory Poulter was given Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell for the fourballs. Never behind against Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk, Poulter converted a 14-footer to maintain a one-hole lead on the 17th – Furyk holed from nine feet to stay alive – and then got down in a pitch and three-foot putt on the last to clinch the point. Asked how highly he rated the putt the ecstatic Englishman, preferred to Darren Clarke and criticised for not playing in the final qualifying event, said: “It&aposs right up there.” “That was a special moment. What a day – G Mac played awesome. I was struggling at times, but managed to hang in there and came up with a couple of birdies.” Just before that Paul Casey had made a 10-footer to give him and Garcia a half with Ben Curtis and Steve Stricker, whose 18-foot putt denied the European victory in a match where they had never led. The day&aposs play ended with Robert Karlsson just missing an eagle chance that would have given him and fellow Swede Henrik Stenson victory over Phil Mickelson and Mahan. But what the half meant was that the session had been shared 2-2 and, with the foursomes won 2 1/2-1 1/2, Europe had got the better of the day. The one afternoon loss saw an end to Westwood&aposs record-equalling 12-match unbeaten run in the event. Again partnering Danish debutant Soren Hansen they went down 2&1 to Boo Weekley and big-hitting Kentuckian JB Holmes, the pair they had halved with on the opening day. The biggest hero of the morning was the player who sat out the entire first day. England&aposs Oliver Wilson came in for a debut alongside Stenson and a 28-foot birdie putt on the 17th completed a quite stunning two and one victory over Mickelson and Anthony Kim. The two American stars had charged into a four-hole lead after only six holes, but as they fell apart at the seams with five bogeys in the next 11 the unfancied European pair seized their chance magnificently. After Kim went in the water on the 434-yard 15th – he tried a virtually impossible recovery from being put in the trees by the world number two – Stenson and Wilson led and when the putt dropped two holes later Mickelson could not make his 20-footer to stay alive. Top foursomes pair Poulter and Rose had already got Europe off to a winning start to the day and McDowell and Miguel Angel Jimenez then birdied the 547-yard last to halve with Justin Leonard and Mahan, double winners on the opening day. However, Furyk and local man Perry beat Harrington and Karlsson on the 17th to restore a two-point advantage for Paul Azinger&aposs team. Into the fourballs then without Open and PGA champion Harrington, who had no complaints after managing only a half-point from three games – and this two years after that was his contribution at The K Club. Poulter, justifying Faldo&aposs faith in him, was going to be the only member of the side to play all five games. He and Rose had had their second win in three games, beating Chad Campbell and Stewart Cink four and three to avenge their first day defeat. This time they charged five clear and were out in 31, allowed it to close to two, but then crucially Poulter made a 15-foot par putt on the 14th. Cink missed from nine, then went in the water on the next. Game over. Westwood and Garcia had been rested for the first time in their cup careers. The shock was that Westwood had just equalled Arnold Palmer&aposs cup record of 12 games in a row without defeat and had done it with a brilliant comeback, while on the opening morning he and world No.5 Garcia had won the last two holes for a half against Furyk and Perry, a result which extended the Spanish star&aposs unbeaten record in foursomes to 8 1/2 points out of nine.