Melbourne: Ian Poulter converted his sparkling Ryder Cup form into his second World Golf Championship victory in Shenzhen earlier this month and will hope to maintain his strong finish to the year by defending his Australian Masters title. Poulter will battle former major winner Graeme McDowell and a determined local contingent spearheaded by world number five Adam Scott at Kingston Heath in Melbourne's famed sandbelt.
The 36-year-old Englishman suggested his strongest opponent this week might well be himself, however, and admitted to struggling to take his Ryder Cup intensity to stroke play events.
"You don't get the intensity at a major like you do at the Ryder Cup," the world number 16 told reporters at Kingston Heath on Wednesday. You can't recreate what it means in a Ryder Cup into a stroke play event. But to give you an example, I probably had five percent adrenaline going through my body - compared to the 100 percent that I had at the Ryder Cup - two weeks ago at the WGC event."
While the Masters's modest A$180,000 winner's cheque might do little to stoke Poulter's competitive fires, Kingston Heath's tricky layout, which places a premium on tactics while rewarding risk-takers, offers a mouthwatering challenge.
Poulter showed himself up for any challenge at last year's tournament, where he upstaged a strong field boasting then-world number one Luke Donald at nearby Royal Victoria Golf Club. After recovering from a bout of food poisoning, Poulter battled through gale-force winds on the final day to win by three strokes and earn the tournament's 'Golden Jacket', a nod to the more salubrious green one handed to US Masters winners.
In contrast to Poulter, McDowell would hope to leave his Ryder Cup form back in Illinois, where he posted a disappointing a 1-3-0 record and was benched on the second day.
The 2010 U.S. Open champion's troubles continued in China where he badly bruised his hand after accidentally banging it into a hotel room door at the WGC Champions tournament in Shenzhen. Northern Irishman McDowell gritted his teeth, modified his grip and played out the tournament to finish joint 42nd.
"Kind of one of those freak clumsy, kind of don't want to talk about incidents that you just scratch your head and think, 'How the hell did I do that'," he told reporters at Kingston Heath. It's fine, I'm great and nearly back to 100 percent; probably 95 percent. So thankfully, touch wood, I'll be keeping my hands away from doors here for the foreseeable future."
McDowell has enjoyed a consistent year with strong performances at the majors but has been frustrated with his winless season, a sentiment Australian Scott shares. The 32-year-old Scott said he was desperate to return to the winner's circle after a season of near-misses which included his heartbreaking runnerup finish at the British Open where his game unravelled in the final holes.
"In some ways it's been a really good year, I've played a lot of good golf and I'm very happy with that," he said. I've been very consistent week in and week out performing at a pretty high level, but I haven't managed to put four days together at the right time and therefore haven't won an event this year which bothers me a little bit."