By: Richard Dean
HUMBLE, Tex. – Beau Hossler is going to have to wait for his first PGA TOUR win. Victory was in the 23-year-old rookie’s grasp. Oh, so close. Just inches actually.
That was the difference between his 30-foot birdie putt dropping into the cup on the final hole for victory, and a near miss that put the fate of Ian Poulter in his own hands. Poulter’s putter to be precise.
Clutch putting has always been a strength for the 42-year-old Poulter, who has thrived in international competition. Just ask the United States players who have gone against him in Ryder Cup, where Poulter has represented Europe five times.
When a putt is needed to be made, Poulter is the guy to go to. He showed why on Sunday. Moments after Hossler’s missed birdie putt on 18, Poulter drained a 20-footer to force a playoff, which Poulter won with a par on the first extra hole to become the winner of the 2018 Houston Open at the Golf Club of Houston and secure a spot in the upcoming Masters.
“I think that shows there’s still some good golf left in me,” said Poulter, who along with Hossler, finished four rounds of regulation in 19 under, 3 shots ahead of their nearest pursuers. “I proved that. It’s been an amazing week.”
Poulter, who was paired with Hossler in the final pairing Sunday, didn’t make the decision to play in the Houston Open until Tuesday morning. A wise decision. Poulter had rounds of 73-64-65-67 to win for only the third time on the PGA TOUR in 241 starts and for the first time in stroke play.
In winning anywhere for the first time since 2012, Poulter earned $1,260,000 of the $7 million purse. Just as important, the victory gives Poulter a two-year exemption on the PGA TOUR, carrying him through the 2019-20 season.
“The win just doesn’t mean getting into Augusta,” said the 42-year-old Poulter, who moved up to 20th in FedExCup points. “There’s a lot bigger things on the horizon. It’s been a long road the last couple of years with injury, questioning whether I’ve got a PGA TOUR card or not.”
Poulter’s opening-round 1-over-73 ties Jason Day’s first-round score from the Farmers Insurance Open as the highest start by a winner on the PGA TOUR this season.
Jordan Spieth, who made a 29-foot par putt over a ridge on 18 to close out a 6-under 66 round, shared third with Emiliano Grillo at 16 under.
“I hit three poor shots and then a really good one at the end and sometimes that’s how it works,” Spieth said.
Sam Ryder was alone in fifth at 15 under, followed by Henrik Stenson and Keith Mitchell, who shared sixth at 14 under.
After a poor start to the tournament, Poulter went 49 holes without a bogey until making a 4 on the par-3 No. 9 hole Sunday, dropping his lead over Hossler to 2 shots.
Even in defeat, Hossler, who recorded a triple-bogey 7 on the playoff hole, proved he’s a player to be reckoned with in the near future, shooting four rounds in the 60s. Hossler had rounds of 65-68-69-67 and earned his biggest paycheck on tour, $756,000 for his runner-up finish.
“I played great,” Hossler said. “I said yesterday, I wanted to beat him at his best and I saw it today. Pretty unfortunate to go out like that in the playoff, really tough hole.
“I feel great about my game. I’m proud of the way I handled myself under pressure. Hit a lot of quality shots, hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens, rolled the ball well.”
But the key moment of the day came when Hossler missed the putt on 18 in regulation and Poulter followed by making his putt, sending the two golfers back to the 18th hole to start the playoff.
“I had a great read from his putt,” Poulter said. “That’s why I walked right behind him to take a good look, and obviously he thought he holed it. He was off and running, he took his hat off and putter was in the air, ready to give me the fist pump and rightly so.
“It was a good putt. I thought he holed his putt. But with me being three feet to the right, a little bit closer, I knew my putt would break slightly from that angle. So I hit a great putt, good read, and it was very helpful seeing his putt.”
Poulter, the third-round co-leader with Hossler, had as much as a 3-shot lead on Sunday before Hossler stormed back with four straight birdies concluding on the 15th, that moved Hossler to 19 under and a 1-shot advantage over Poulter. Hossler would not lose the lead until the crucial birdie putt by Poulter on the final hole of regulation.
Poulter was at 17 and Hossler 14 under through six holes. At that point, Matt Kuchar and Sam Ryder were also at 14 under.
With the win, Poulter said that he will shorten his summer schedule and focus on tournaments he really wants to play.
Making his second start at the Houston Open after tying for 39th last year after receiving a sponsor exemption, this is Hossler’s best finish on the PGA TOUR.
“I can’t be negative about the week,” Hossler said. “I was really hoping I would get it done this week, but my time will come soon.”