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Poulter Set for Season's First Big Tournament in Abu Dhabi
Fresh off the best season of his career, Ian Poulter is back in action in this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. The Englishman, who turned 34 on January 10, is playing in European Tour event along with what's clearly the best field of the year.
A member of both the PGA and European tours, Poulter won on each circuit, notching his first American victory in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona last February and, in November, his career 10th title on the European Tour in the UBS Hong Kong Open.
All that fine play took the flamboyant player known for his colorful golf attire and 1 million Twitter fans took him to No. 10 in the World Golf Rankings.
Poulter, who finished second in last year's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, won't be alone in seeking the prize this week in the United Arab Emirates. In addition to such European Tour stalwarts as No. 1-ranked Lee Westwood, he'll be joined by all four of last year's major champions: American Phil Mickelson (Masters) - who's playing in the event for the first time, South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen (British Open), Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland (U.S. Open) and Germany's Martin Kaymer (PGA Championship).
Also entered is fellow Brit, No. 1-ranked Lee Westwood, eighth-ranked Paul Casey.
"They put a great field together," said McDowell. "To have as many top players as they have this week, it's just a quality field, quality golf course and should be a great week. (The organizers) always produce a great winner here. Just got to look down the five, six years; always quality, quality players win here."
On Tuesday afternoon from the tournament site, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Poulter sat down with reporters and discussed his fine 2010 season, how he spent his break, and his chances for starting this year off with a bang with by unseating defending champion Kaymer with a win in the Middle East.
He also weighed in on the choice of Jose Maria Olazabal as the captain of the 2012 European Ryder Cup team. Here's what Poulter had to say.
MODERATOR: Ian, thanks very much for coming in and welcome to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. An exciting week, big field and a lot to play for this week.
IAN POULTER: Huge field. It's nice, obviously, to come back. I finished second here last year to Martin Kaymer and it would be great to start the year off how we kind of finished last year in kind of winning ways. So very much looking forward to another golf course that's changed a little bit, just looking at a few of the holes in the yardage book. So, yeah, it's going to be interesting. We ever a very, very strong field.
MODERATOR: You finished last season, last year so strong. What have you been doing over the last recent weeks to try to keep that form going.
IAN POULTER: Relaxing. Doing a bit of fishing. Sitting on the sun lounger.
MODERATOR: That's it. That's the secret.
Q. You may have heard about The Ryder Cup captaincy. What's your reaction to Josť's appointment and what sort of captain do you think he'll make?
IAN POULTER: I think it's awesome. Ollie has kind of been there the last couple, and you know, nobody has more passion for The Ryder Cup than Ollie. So to me, that's very refreshing that he's taken that position. And it's going to be very, very exciting to try to make that side. I mean, that will be awesome to play for him.
Q. In terms of rousing speeches, where would you rankings the one that Ollie give in Kentucky on the Saturday night?
IAN POULTER: As good a speech as I've heard from a Ryder Cup Captain/vice captain.
Q. And the stand that he has within the players, would you say he's one of most popular choices as captain in your time?
IAN POULTER: Certainly in my time I would say so, yeah. He has everybody's attention from start to finish. He's very thoughtful. He's very passionate, and everything he says is very valid. He's got more passion than anyone else for the Ryder Cup, and that says everything.
Q. Can you give one example?
IAN POULTER: What, of his passion? The speech alone. Just the few things he said were said from the heart, and you just have to do rerun after rerun of Seve and Ollie just to know that it means everything to him, and that's all you really need from a captain. So he will just do an incredible job.
Q. Just from a personal perspective when you went and watched The Belfry when you were 17, just to think that he was going to be your captain, you watched him and Seve that week, can you just explain does that feel like an honor for the players?
IAN POULTER: It would be an honour. I want to make the side for sure. To be at that Ryder Cup, Belfry back in '93, when Seve and Ollie were at their best, they were, and -- they were Ryder Cup. You cut either one in half and it will say Ryder Cup. You saw that from the first tee to the 18th hole. They had some incredible matches. That he were pretty much unbeatable.
Q. On the point of being on that team, Ollie is suggesting that he would prefer to go back to two picks; that's ten qualifying from the list. What's your opinion on that as a player?
IAN POULTER: I think that's fine. I would like the two tables to be flipped to be honest. Looking at the last two Ryder Cups, if they take -- if they take The Race to Dubai list first and take the World Ranking points list second, you would get the strongest couple of sides. So I would like that to be flipped the other way, whether that happens, we'll have to wait and see.
Q. I was going to ask what sort of impression on you at Celtic Manor. He arrived late, but was there a sense when he arrived, gosh, here's another good man to have in our team room?
IAN POULTER: Absolutely. I think all the vice that were there were brilliant. They had done a great job. And then obviously Ollie decided would he like to come and help, as well, and is just a very calming kind of aura that he carries about himself. You know, it's just very nice. He doesn't need to say a lot. But when he does, it's pretty powerful.
Q. And what do you call him, Ollie?
IAN POULTER: I call him Ollie, yeah.
IAN POULTER: I've always called him Ollie, yeah. He'll be captain now.
Q. Just coming back to the tournament that starts in two days' time, you've always done well in the desert, finished second last year at the Dubai World Championship, finished second here, won the world Match Play Championship. What is it about desert golf that fascinates you and what gets you going over here?
IAN POULTER: I've got no idea. Normally it's the start of the year, so I guess I'm fresh and ready to go. I feel pretty fresh and ready to go this time around. The Match Play, I had had a couple of weeks off prior, so, again, I'm fresh and ready to go. So this kind of schedule works out that these tournaments are at the start of the year and you should be raring to go and excited to play golf.
Q. A freakish penalty stroke cost you the chance of winning on your last visit to the UAE. Did that linger in the mind for long afterwards, and has it bothered you since?
IAN POULTER: Two minutes.
Q. Got over it very quickly?
IAN POULTER: Still use the same ball marker. It was lucky the week before when I won. So I can't sack a ball marker. I was the one that dropped the ball. Yeah, I mean, it didn't -- it would have upset me a lot more if I had four feet and Robert had 30 feet. I think that might have been a little more painful. But if you look at the averages, the percentages of putts that are holed from 30 feet, I was kind of a little outside of that position. I hit a poor third shot. Yeah, it was slightly unfortunate, but these things happen.
Q. Do you think this country now owes you one? You've had a few near misses.
IAN POULTER: This game doesn't owe anybody anything. You have to play well. I wouldn't look at it that way.
Q. Have you had a look around the golf course already?
IAN POULTER: From the clubhouse and the putting green.
Q. Do you have any thoughts -
IAN POULTER: I've just had a quick look through the yardage book to know a couple of the par 5 tees have been moved back. So I don't mind that. I actually think that's a good thing for us. I'm probably an average-length hitter, so that probably plays into my hands more now; where it's maybe only one or two of the longest hitters now are going to be able to reach some of those par 5s. So I'm going to be laying it up to my good number and have a decent chance from there. So against the field from a hundred yards, I'd say I have a pretty good chance. I think the changes will be good.
Q. Your record generally suggests you play your best golf when you're fresh. Does that resort in any schedule changes this year?
IAN POULTER: I mean, I will be very fresh -- I'll be very fresh for the U.S. Open and The Open this year. I'll have a couple of weeks off before the U.S. Open, a couple of weeks off before the open. So, yeah, and a couple of weeks off before the US PGA. Obviously the WGC is in there. That middle period of the year I'm going to be well rested.
Q. The Masters?
IAN POULTER: The Masters I'm playing a reasonably full schedule, but having a week off beforehand. So that's just the way the schedule works this year.
MODERATOR: Ian, good luck this week.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.