HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Ian Poulter is ready for a break after a long, eventful stretch on tour. He has one more important goal to accomplish, though, at the RBC Heritage before any time off.
“We’ll see if we have a last bit of plaid to put in the closet,” said a grinning Poulter, referring to the tartan jacket giving the winner at Harbour Town Golf Links.
The resurgent Poulter will have that chance Sunday after shooting a 4-under 67 to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the RBC Heritage, putting him in position for his second victory in three weeks.
Before April, Poulter had not won on tour in more than five years. Now, he’s one more solid round away from adding another title to his dramatic win at the Houston Open on April 1.
No joke, Poulter’s play is for real.
Seven of the Englishman’s last 11 rounds have been in the 60s after having just three such showings in his first 20 rounds this season. His latest left him at 13-under 200, and a stroke ahead of Luke List (67) and Si Woo Kim (68).
“It’s been a long six weeks,” Poulter said.
He was incorrectly told he had qualified for the Masters after a quarterfinal appearance at the WCG Match Play championship. Then down to his final try to reach Augusta National, Poulter needed a birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Beau Hossler. Poulter prevailed on the first playoff hole.
He’s kept up that stellar play at Harbour Town.
“There’s been quite a bit of lows in the last 18 months, to be honest,” Poulter said. “So if you ride the waves and you trust yourself and you believe in your ability, then hopefully, it’s still in there.”
Poulter let it out once more to move in front.
He made his run in spurts, moving out front with birdies on the fifth and six holes before getting his last two on the 12th and 13th. He saved par out of the bunker on the par-3 17th, rolling in a rock-solid 6-foot putt and making a routine par on the signature lighthouse hole, the 18th, to stay in front.
“It’s just nice to play good golf,” Poulter said.
Kim was in front at 12 under after birdies on the eighth and ninth holes. He fell back with bogey on No. 12 and could not catch Poulter down the stretch. Kim, defending champion at The Players Championship, said he was disappointed in himself for feeling nervous early here. “I think it’s going to motivate me to be more aggressive and play well,” he said.
List took off with three straight birdies on Nos. 14-16. List, who finished second earlier this season at the Honda Classic, is seeking his first PGA Tour win. List has withdrawn, tied for 39th and missed the cut in his three Harbour Town appearances. He had set the week up as a family vacation with a little golf involved. That’s changed. “I never really thought I’d play well here, but it’s kind of all come together,” he said.
Second-round leader Bryson DeChambeau had the confident stride of a pending winner with his first solo 36-hole lead as a pro – at least until the third round got going. After grabbing a two-shot lead with a birdie on No. 1, DeChambeau imploded with a triple-bogey eight on the normally birdie-able par-5 second.
DeChambeau struck his second shot past the green and out of bounds by some condos. He fluffed his fifth shot into a bunker, then missed a 5-foot putt for the dreaded snowman.
Three holes later, DeChambeau botched another par 5, the fifth, by rolling his blast from a bunker off the green and into a sprinkler cover.
“Unbelievable what’s happened on the par fives today,” DeChambeau said as he saw his ball.
DeChambeau had been 6-under par on Harbour Town’s three par 5s the first two rounds. He played them in 3-over Saturday on the way to a 75 to fall seven shots back.
In his only two previous appearances here, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson missed the cut badly – at 16 over in 2008 and 5 over in 2009. This time, he to channel the game that’s made him the world’s top-ranked golfer for more than a year. Instead, Johnson had bogeys on four of his first 11 holes before rallying to finish with a 72 and was 10 shots in back of Poulter.
Again, Johnson pointed to putter problems this week. Johnson missed five birdie putts of 16 feet or less on the front nine. “Around here, you’ve got to hole some putts if you want to compete,” he said.
Poulter and his chasers will have a quick turnaround Sunday with tour officials starting play at 7 a.m. and going off in threesomes on both tees because of expected bad weather in the afternoon.