Much like he has the last two years, Ian Poulter had to battle all the way to the end at the Houston Open. Needing birdie at the 72nd hole to join a playoff with Beau Hossler, Poulter came up clutch and buried a 20-footer, leading to an emotional celebration we've come to know from the fiery Englishman.
From there, the hard work was done. All the 42-year-old needed was par on the first playoff hole to capture his first worldwide victory since 2012 and earn the coveted final invitation to the Masters.
"Had to dig deep today, just rolled it in at the right time," said Poulter, whose final-round 67 at Golf Club of Houston was highlighted by that final putt in regulation, one that was aided by seeing Hossler's longer birdie look on the same line. Hossler's effort looked like it would fall and give him his first PGA Tour title and the same spot in the Masters, but it just missed on the high side.
"I had a good read obviously," Poulter said. "Beau hit a good putt, and I thought he holed it, it stayed a little high so my putt was about three feet to the right, I knew mine was actually going to break just a fraction right to left."
On the only sudden-death playoff hole, Poulter striped a drive down the fairway and knocked it on the green, leaving him another long birdie putt. Meanwhile, Hossler struggled, hitting his approach in a greenside bunker and then catching his third shot thin and hitting it into the water. Poulter needed just two putts for his first career stroke-play win in the United States, and his third career PGA Tour victory.
Along with a spot in the Masters, the European Ryder Cup stalwart also earned a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, giving him a certain future that wasn't so certain a season ago. It also comes one week after the Masters mix-up at the WGC-Dell Match Play.
"Last week was painful, and to come here this week, I was tired, I was frustrated on Thursday, I didn't play my best stuff. I packed my bags obviously to leave on Friday, and, a mental switch, I said to Jamie today, you know what, let's just go play golf, see what happens" Poulter said. "I was patient, I waited my time, and this is amazing, you know I haven't won a stroke play event in the states, so, to do it this week after the disappointment of last week, to know I'm going to Augusta to do it in true fashion is amazing.
"This one's for Katie, my wife, she's been a rock for the last few years and it's been tough, it's been hard. I've been injured, and it's been difficult. There's been stuff going on and she's the reason why I'm here."
Hossler, who also posted a closing 67 to get to 19-under 269, will have to wait a little longer for his first tour victory, but it's clear that breakthrough is not far away. The former University of Texas All-American has now finished inside the top 25 five times this season, including three top-10s.
Jordan Spieth mounted a final-round charge that ultimately came up short. His six-under 66 put him in a tie for third with Emiliano Grillo at 16-under 272, and while it wasn't enough to win, the three-time major champion was pleased with what he accomplished as he looks to win a second green jacket next week.
"I had some chances today, I had an opportunity to shoot eight or nine under, I'm very pleased with my six under," Spieth said, adding, "goal accomplished for the week, and I've made some big strides from my last couple tournaments. I'm very excited for what next week holds."
Finishing in solo fifth at 15-under 273 was PGA Tour rookie Sam Ryder, who fired a four-under 68 on Sunday. Henrik Stenson and Keith Mitchell tied for sixth at 14-under 274.