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Ian Poulter's obvious reason for motivation, Harris English keeps cooking and a pair of Prez Cup studs go low

August 06, 2021

Ian Poulter lines up his putt on the sixth hole during the first round of the FedEx St Jude Invitational.

Sam Greenwood

As of this writing, Ian Poulter's chances of automatically qualifying for the European Ryder Cup team are slim, at best. He's 21st on the European Points list, which puts him 17 spots back of an auto bid. On the World Points list, he's five spots back of Shane Lowry, who is currently in position to lock up the ninth and final automatic slot.

That means he's fighting for one of Padraig Harrington's three captain's picks, already a heated competition with the likes of potential first-timers Victor Perez, Robert MacIntyre, Guido Migliozzi and Bernd Wiesberger, who occupy the four spots between Poulter and Lowry. Just behind Poulter? Euro Team stalwarts Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, each of whom, like Poulter, are firmly on the outside looking in. 

As if Harrington's decisions weren't tough enough, Poulter plans to make them even harder, starting this week at TPC Southwind, where he's shot rounds of 64 and 66 to reach 10 under. He's three off the lead of Harris English, and he's already got his eye on Whistling Straits. Poults gonna Poults. 

"I've been on a decent run of form and I just want to help Paddy [Harrington] out," Poulter said. "I want to make that team, I really want to be a part of this Ryder Cup team. Just keep playing some nice golf and everything takes care of itself."

Problem is, time is running out. Yes, Poulter has played better over the last handful of months, turning his season around at the WGC-Match Play and posting a T-3 at Colonial and a T-4 at the Scottish Open. But he needs much more, starting with a strong result this week (a win, preferably) and another good effort at Liberty National in two weeks. 

"He's [Harrington] got three picks," Poulter said. "I would love not to be a pick, and obviously right now it's in my hands and I would like to somehow take it out of his hands and obviously play my way in the team. I know if I play great this week and play great at Liberty National, I can somehow keep accruing points. I need to do that to help him out."

Harris English plays his shot on the sixth hole during the second round of the FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

Sam Greenwood

Harris English just keeps on cooking

After completing his career comeback with a win at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, it would have been very easy for English to get complacent. Coast to the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Get all fat and happy. As he's proven in the time since, he's neither fat (the man is a twig), nor happy with just one comeback win. He already picked off another in an epic eight-hole playoff with Kramer Hickock at the Travelers Championship, and he's on track to pick up a third this week in Memphis. Following a first-round 62, English backed it up with a Friday 65, giving him the solo lead heading into the weekend. Outside of around-the-green, English is top 20 in every major strokes-gained area, and he's top two in putting, approach, and tee to green. He's the ballstriker's ballstriker, the tactician's tactician, which is what's most impressive about his renaissance. In an era of bomb and gouge, English plays for position and let's his elite iron game do the rest. 

"A lot of guys feel like they can overpower this course or hit driver a lot more," English said. "My main goal on every hole is to hit it in the fairway and whatever club I'm most comfortable with getting the ball on the fairway. Because I feel like my iron game is really good right now."

No lies detected. 

Abraham Ancer reacts after making birdie on the seventh green during the second round of the FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

Sam Greenwood

Pair of Prez Cup studs go crazy low

It's most definitely not a Presidents Cup year, but Abraham Ancer and Cameron Smith played like it was the 2019 Presidents Cup all over again on Friday. The duo, who combined to go 4-2-2 as Prez Cup rookies two years ago at Royal Melbourne, combined to go 16 under at TPC Southwind in Round 2, each shooting an eight-under 62. Smith did it in particularly wild fashion, needing just 18 putts (!!). Ancer needed a few more, but that didn't make his bogey-free, 31-31 round any less impressive. Southwind can be a brutal track (just ask Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka, who are a combined one under for the week), but Ancer, Smith and English have all shown that there are some very low rounds out there. In no-cut event, that could make the weekend very interesting. 

Bryson DeChambeau makes birdie at the 18th hole during the second round.

Tracy Wilcox

Two guys the leaders should be very scared of

Bryson DeChambeau's first round post-COVID was a surprising one, at least to him. The fact he sort of backed it up on Friday, shooting a four-under 66 to reach nine under, is a clear sign he's almost already back to full flight. Even scarier is that he shot his 66 by, as he described it, "scrapping it around." Should he put it all together on the weekend and pick apart the par 5s, there's no reason to believe he can't get his season back on track with another win. 

And then there's Dustin Johnson, who shot a five-under 65 that included a handful of missed birdie putts that he would absolutely qualify as makeable in his eyes. As a two-time winner at this course, he obviously knows it very well, and now that the rest of his game seems to be rounding back into World No. 1 form the putts will soon start to fall at a much higher rate. English, Ancer and Smith are all capable of winning this tournament, but they best sleep with one eye open tonight.