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PGA Championship 2021: Ian Poulter is convinced the guys operating Kiawah's leader boards are nuts

Ian Poulter laughed out loud when he saw a message on the Kiawah leader board saying he was hunting down the course record.

Gregory Shamus

Ian Poulter was cruising on Friday at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, six under through his first dozen holes. Despite a freshening breeze and the overall difficulty that this PGA Championship has presented, the 45-year-old Englishman leaned on a deft short game to carve out four birdies and an eagle in that span, the latter coming when he holed out a greenside bunker shot on the par-5 seventh. Just like that, Poulter could sniff the top of the leader board.

Then he caught a glimpse of an actual leader board in the distance on the 13th hole.

“It was ironic, it says, Ian Poulter, six under through 12 and chasing down a course record,” said the sardonic Brit. “I just started laughing to myself, like who in the world would write that and put that on a board with that last five holes to play?”

For the record, the lowest round recorded at the Ocean Course in the two PGA Championships that it has hosted was a 65 from Seung-Yul Noh in the final round of the 2012 edition of the tournament.

But Poulter could sense something in the far away words. It was a cruel joke indeed. You can guess what happened next: He bogeyed four of his next five holes to card a 70.

History will have to wait, and it might be a while.

“Yeah, I don’t—if anyone does shoot six under par, then major respect,” Poulter said. “It’s incredible.”

And difficult.

With all but one of the final half-dozen holes playing into the teeth of the wind, the closing stretch at the Ocean Course has proved to be the most difficult stretch of golf on the seaside property. In Thursday’s opening round, the 17th and 18th played as the first- and second-most difficult holes on the course. The par-5 16th? Third. The 13th, 14th and 16th, meanwhile, ranked eighth, sixth and ninth, respectively.

Not much was different on Friday. Phil Mickelson, who began his round on the back nine bogeyed three of the last six on the Ocean Course’s back nine before torching the front side with a closing 31 to grab the early lead. Branden Grace, who had the lead for much of the morning and played beautifully his first 13 holes, crashed and burned in the end, his tee shot on 17 finding the water en route to a double bogey there followed by a bogey on the 18th. Gary Woodland perhaps would have a share of the lead if not for his double on 18 halfway through his round.

More of the same is expected on Saturday, though an expend shift in wind direction could offer a reprieve come Sunday’s final round.

“If they leave the tees where they are today and not chuck us back?” Poulter reasoned. “Look, I hit a really, really, really good drive off 18. I had 224 [yards] front, 250 pin, which I calculated at 290, with 40 yards of strong into the wind. I’ve hit my best 3-wood—driver, 3-wood, and that’s us on a very forward tee. So I’m not long, but even not being long and still hitting the fairway, that closing stretch is just hard. I'm sure they’re going to one day squeeze one of those tees a bit further back just for a good laugh.”

Not that Poulter minds. If anything, it’s a nod to the difficulty that is major championship golf.

“We want a good test, right?” he said. “We always want to test ourselves to the highest level. I think this is a super clever golf course. I think it’s a very good designed golf course, played in this wind, and to be six under on any course at any stage, you’re generally playing some good golf.”