There is something in team competitions that gets Ian Poulter going.
The recently-turned-40 Englishman had every reason to be flat on the opening day of the EurAsia Cup – he travelled the most out of all 24 players to reach Kuala Lumpur from Orlando, was the last to arrive and possibly jet-lagged, and on top of that, he received a birthday gift from his team that was so outrageous, he actually flung it across the room in disgust.
Perhaps, it was a masterstroke by Darren Clarke to gift the die-hard Arsenal fan a Tottenham Hotspur jersey.
On the opening day of the EurAsia Cup, Poulter went out with a vengeance and put up the first point for Europe by beating India’s Anirban Lahiri and Korean youngster Jeung-hun Wang 4&3.
In the company of Bernd Wiesberger, Poulter never lost a hole to the Asian pairing, and provided the all-important acceleration early on the back nine to pull away. That was just the start Europe was looking for and they finished the day three points ahead at 4.5-1.5.
Poulter started in brilliant fashion, making an 18-footer birdie putt to answer Wang’s similar effort from 20 feet. Later, he made an eagle on the par-5 11th and followed it up with a brilliant tee shot on the 12th that set-up a birdie on the par-3 12th hole. Combined with Wiesberger’s birdies on the sixth and 10th holes, it was a comfortable win for the Europeans.
At one stage, the Europeans led in all six matches. But in the end, the highest-ranked Asian pairing of Thongchai Jaidee and Byeong-hun An fought back to beat Danny Willett and Matthew Fitzpatrick, while the local Malaysian pairing of Danny Chia and Nicholas Fung halved against the hobbling Victor Dubuisson and Soren Kjeldsen.
Another Clarke pick, former world No1 Lee Westwood, was also in great form as he joined hands with Chris Wood, to beat Kiradech Aphibarnrat and SSP Chawrasia 2&1 in a tight match.
Clarke said: “It’s a wonderful start for Europe. There were a lot of matches there where it could have swung either way on the back nine.
“Halfway around, Europe were leading in all the matches. I was on the radio to a few of the other guys and said, this is match play…Asia are going to come back at some stage on the back nine, and that’s exactly what they did.
“We had a strong couple matches and managed to finish with a very good result.”
On both his picks doing so well, Clarke added: “I picked Lee and Poults not only for their experience, but I’ve been tracking their stats, as well, last year. Even though they haven’t won recently, their golf has been up to an incredible high standard.
“Their stats show that week-in, week-out. So I knew they were both playing well. They just have one or two bad holes, and when it comes to match play, that doesn’t really make that big a difference.
“In terms of how satisfied I feel having picked them, it’s not about me. It’s about the team; and they have contributed for the team, and that’s the most important thing.”
Europe will still be wary despite the healthy lead, especially remembering how Asia came back from 0-5 down on the opening day to share the trophy at 10-10 in the inaugural edition in 2014.
And captain Jeev Milkha Singh was thinking on the same lines.
“Going back to two years ago, I think we were not placed that well. But this year, we got 1.5 points in the fourballs, and I think that’s the positive I’m looking at,” he said.
“I think my team played really well today. I’m proud of my boys. They were just a little unlucky with their putts, but that’s what the game is all about, whoever holes them, wins. I think they are going to work pretty hard on their putting for tomorrow and the day after. I am excited about the next two days.”
Clarke also said both Dubuisson and Willett, who was seen holding his back mid-way through the round, will be fit for the foursomes. The Frenchman suffered from a locked knee on the 15th hole, but felt much after receiving treatment on the 16th tee.
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