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Len Ziehm On Golf

RYDER CUP: Poulter’s five-birdie finish gives Europe some hope

There may be no better match play competitor in Ryder Cup history than England’s Ian Poulter. He’s kept Team Europe alive – at least barely – through two days of the 39th staging of the event at Medinah, and he gave a pulsating finish to Saturday’s session.

After playing partner Rory McIlroy made birdie at No. 13 Poulter reeled off five birds in a row, the last of which clinched a 1-up victory over Americans Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson. Poulter and McIlroy were 2-down when their run began.

“We had to make birdies and – wow! – five in a row. It was awesome,’’ said Poulter, who is 3-0-0 this week, even though his team trails the U.S. 10-6 going into Sunday’s concluding 12 singles matches.

Poulter, who made the European team as a captain’s pick this time, ran his career Ryder Cup record to 11-3-0. He won his morning matches Friday and Saturday with another Englishman, Justin Rose, as his partner.

European captain Jose Maria Olazabal rested Poulter on Friday afternoon, but sent him off first Saturday. Poulter was good throughout but saved his best for the last five holes. His first two birdies came off great bunker shots and his last was the best of all – a 15-footer as darkness was setting in.

“After 13 I could have walked in,’’ in said McIlroy, the No. 1-ranked player in the world. “It was a Poulter shoot from there on in, and it was a joy to watch. He’s very intense, and when the putts start going in he gets that look in his eye. He looks right through you. This event brings the best out of Ian.’’

“I surprised myself,’’ said Poulter. “In match play I love the fight. You stare your opponent in the face. In match play I’m tough to play against. It’s that simple.’’

In addition to his sterling Ryder Cup record Poulter won the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship in 2010 and the Volvo World Match Play Championship in 2011. Though ranked No. 28 in the world, he was the only player to finish in the top 10 at three of the four major championships this year.

Though he’s built a reputation off his match play record Poulter isn’t bad in singles, either. He was 3-0-0 in his Ryder Cup singles matches in 2004, 2008 and 2010.

“It’s pretty fun, this Ryder Cup,’’ said Poulter, who believes his team can get at least the eight points it needs to retain the trophy today.

“You can win from this position,’’ he insisted. “It’s been done in the past (by the U.S. in 1999), and it will be done again.’’