By Richard Dean
HUMBLE, Tex. – Ian Poulter had been very frustrated of late.
Last week in Austin, following a win in the Final 16 of the Dell Technologies Match Play, he was led to believe he had moved into the top 50 world golf rankings and had secured a spot in the Masters only to find out he hadn’t. And in Thursday’s opening round of the Houston Open, he shot a 1-over 73. That didn’t exactly put him in the best of moods, by his own admission.
“I was very frustrated Thursday night,” Poulter said. “Packed my suitcase to potentially go home Friday night.”
Forget about packing the bags. Over the last two rounds, it’s been vintage Poulter. You know, the guy that has represented Europe in five Ryder Cups and has 11 international victories to his credit. When the putter’s working, it’s really going for the 42-year-old Poulter.
And he’s been rolling in the putts since Friday. On Saturday over the Golf Club of Houston layout, Poulter shot a 7-under 65. That followed Friday’s 64. That’s good for a share of the third-round lead of the Houston Open with second-round leader Beau Hossler. Both are at 14-under 202.
“To shoot these scores on this golf course, you’re obviously playing well,” said Poulter.
Hossler, who rolled in a 7-foot birdie putt on 18 to close out at 3-under 69, played a patient round. Conditions weren’t as favorable on Saturday with a breeze, as the first two days of the tournament.
“To get a 69 in the house today was strong,” said Hossler, who was born in 1995, the same year Poulter turned pro. “The golf course is firming up a little on the greens. They’re getting fast and the wind was blowing pretty good.”
Wind was southeast 8-18 mph and mostly sunny with a high of 81 on Saturday.
With the weather forecast for Sunday being between gorgeous and beautiful, it should be a great day weather wise as well as for golf. Even though it will be hard to match the action of Saturday, which at one point had seven players tied atop the leaderboard at 12 under.
Poulter will be tested on Sunday as he tries for only his third career PGA Tour victory and first since 2012. Hossler isn’t the only other golfer in the mix.
Greg Chalmers, who had a 7 under round Saturday, Emiliano Grillo, Kevin Tway and Paul Dunne, the first-round leader, share third place at 12-under 204. Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar are in a group of six knotted at 11 under for seventh.
“There’s a good group of players right now that are currently just behind, that are going to be pressing,” Poulter said. “So I need to press as well. I need to be aggressive, stay doing the good stuff that I’ve done and go have some fun.”
Over the first three rounds, Poulter has made 17 birdies and only two bogeys. He’s gone 41 holes since his last bogey. He birdied both holes 16 and 17 on Saturday.
Entering this week, Poulter had one score of 65 or better since the start of the 2015-16 season.
Poulter, who has gone back to using a putter he used at the last Ryder Cup, credits his improved putting on the flat stick as well as opening up his shoulder slightly, which he started to do on Friday.
“From that point, I’ve been able to stand over the putts,” Poulter said. “I’ve been seeing my lines a lot easier and been rolling a few putts in.”
Rickie Fowler was also in the hunt until a triple-bogey 8 on the 13th hole did him in. He’s tied for 17th at 9 under. Fowler also had a double bogey and a bogey in his third round.
In making his third start here, and first since 2014, Poulter is seeking his first stroke-play victory on the PGA Tour and has not won since winning the 2012 WGC-HSBC Champions. He also won the 2010 World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies.
The 23-year-old Hossler has held at least a share of the 54-hole lead once before on the PGA Tour (2017 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open). At that event, he shot a final-round 73 and finished tied for seventh for his best PGA Tour finish.
“The cool thing about this golf course is there’s a lot of birdie opportunities out there and then there’s some really difficult holes as well,” said Hossler, who is making his second start at the Houston Open after finishing tied for 39th last year on a sponsor exemption. “So you can be aggressive on probably half the holes and the other half you’re trying to make par and get out of there.”