MARANA, Arizona, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Former champion Ian Poulter heaved a sigh of relief after beating in-form Stephen Gallacher 2&1 in their snow-delayed first round encounter at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on Thursday.
Poulter not only avoided a third consecutive exit at the first hurdle in the elite World Golf Championships (WGC) event but he did so against a fellow Briton who won the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic earlier this month.
“I‘m fully aware of my early exits the last couple of years and obviously I didn’t want to do that again,” a smiling Poulter told reporters after never trailing in his opening match at Dove Mountain’s Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.
”Stephen was in good form, I knew that. He was obviously fresh and ready to play off the back of a good win. I knew he would be a tough opponent.
“I put in a lot of work in my time off to come out feeling as strong as I possibly can and I’ve hit a lot of good shots over the last two days. Also hit a couple of scruffy ones but I‘m pleased with the way I come out to get through that match.”
Three up after 12 holes overnight with only three-and-a-half hours of golf possible on Wednesday because of driving snow, Poulter confidently sank a seven-foot putt on the 13th green to maintain his advantage.
”It was nice to get the adrenaline going, and that’s certainly what it does,“ he said of his first stroke of the day. ”Match play does that really nicely for me.
“Walking on that green and putting my ball marker down, your heart rate is not moving. And then all of a sudden when it’s time to hole it, your heart is moving again. It’s good to have that buzz.”
Poulter lost the 14th hole to Gallacher after running up a double-bogey there, but he was delighted to rebound with a birdie at the 15th to keep his opponent at bay.
“Even though I hit a poor bunker shot and gave Stephen the 14th hole, I felt pretty confident out there that I could get the job finished,” said the matchplay specialist who is regarded as one of the best putters in the game.
“I had to concentrate. Obviously it’s easy to lose concentration when you’ve had a long (snow) delay like that, and I was pleased with the way I holed out over the last few holes.”
Poulter felt his overall form was sharper than it was in 2010 when he outplayed fellow Briton Paul Casey 4&2 in the Match Play Championship final to earn his first PGA Tour title.
”I scraped past a couple of matches in 2010, and then I played some incredible golf after that,“ the 37-year-old Englishman said. ”The work I had certainly done over the six weeks, I feel my game is in a better shape.
“I‘m really happy with everything in the bag. I can’t think of a year where I’ve been as physically fit and fresh and ready to go. I‘m very much looking forward to trying to get all the way.” (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)