Players Championship: Ian Poulter shows fire still burns bright - Iain Carter
Ian Poulter believes he has put behind him the toughest spell of his career, which he admits has been "miserable".
The 41-year-old Englishman climbed more than 100 places in the world rankings by finishing tied for second with Louis Oosthuizen, three shots behind Kim Si-woo, at last week's Players Championship.
Though Poulter was not able to end a winless run that stretches back to 2012, he showed his famed competitive fire still burns bright despite a string of setbacks.
A foot injury cost him the biggest four months of the 2016 season and he was unable to retain his place in the European Ryder Cup team.
His golf clothing business collapsed and he was forced to play under a medical exemption when he finally returned to the PGA Tour.
"It's been the toughest stretch of my career," Poulter told BBC Sport.
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It was further complicated by the Tour's failure to properly calculate whether he had done enough to keep his card.
Poulter fell just short of the total earnings he thought he would need to extend his playing privileges when he missed the cut in San Antonio last month.
Fellow pro Brian Gay was in a similar position, and it took his forensic analysis of the minutiae of the PGA Tour's rules to reveal an error had been made. Unexpectedly, Poulter was reinstated and that is how he gained his place in the Players Championship field.
"It's been miserable," he said. "There's no other way to explain it.
"When you are taking a break for several months, when your world ranking plummets, when you miss Ryder Cups, when you find yourself in a position chasing down what you think is your Tour card.
"And some other nonsense was going on which we're still working through. It's been miserable."
Poulter did not elaborate on the "other nonsense" but he has contended with the closure of online sales for his IJP Design company.
He announced in March that he had "been unable to justify its continuation after many years of investing in the business and a number of attempts to reshape it against an ever increasingly competitive landscape".
At least, though, he has been able to put his golf game back together. Poulter's bogey-free 71 on Saturday, compiled in fierce winds, was a round of the highest quality.
"It's been really hard and we are slowly getting there," he said.
"This obviously is a big week for me to cement some stuff moving forward where I can enjoy this summer.
"I can now plan a very long schedule and work out exactly what I'm doing and I'll have a nice summer with the kids in the UK."
There was criticism for Poulter though - and respected Golf Channel pundit Brandel Chamblee blamed the Englishman for a conservative approach over the closing holes.
"He clearly did not play to win and he didn't," Chamblee said.
Poulter fired back on Twitter in typically pugnacious manner. He wrote: "Sorry to disappoint, I can only dream of being as good as Brandel" - adding it was "clearly very easy" for those sitting watching.
Chamblee responded by blocking the Englishman's Twitter account.
Two-times Players champion Steve Elkington was also critical of Poulter's failure to go for the green with his second shot at the par-five 16th.
But neither critic seemed to take due account of the fine margins and difficulty of that closing stretch.
"I was trying to press and it is hard," Poulter told me.
"With the wind off the left-hand side on 16 it is difficult to hit that tee shot round the corner and I made a mistake missing the fairway slightly right.
"Seventeen was not a good wind for that pin location, so you suck it up and try to hit a tee shot to about 20ft and try to make two down that ridge if you can."
Poulter recorded pars at both holes and, while he failed to exert pressure that might have forced a Kim error, he made sure he did not play himself out of the championship.
No-one should blame the former Ryder Cup hero for playing the percentages.
Ultimately it took a miraculous escape from the trees after Poulter shanked his second shot to the final hole to ensure a share of the runner-up spoils.
The result moves him up to 80th in the world. It frees up his schedule and puts on hold the humiliating process of writing begging letters for sponsor invitations to PGA Tour events.
With his American card secure, it also means Poulter can plan a schedule to include return visits to Europe - perhaps as soon as next week's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Having seen him play with such character at Sawgrass, fans would need no second invitation to rally behind one of the most popular British players of recent times.