Ian Poulter didn’t just pick a good time to play good golf this week in the 49th RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.
He picked an essential time.
An arthritic joint in his right foot became so painful Poulter took the second half of 2016 off, so he is playing the early part of this season on a major medical exemption.
He is down to two tournaments, including the RBC Heritage, to earn $144,669 or 117.745 FedExCup points in order to retain full PGA Tour status for the remainder of this season.
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A solo 12th-place finish would cover the money he needs.
Poulter is alone in fifth at 10-under 203 through three rounds after opening with rounds of 66 and 68 and carding a 69 Saturday.
A man who has thrived under the pressure of the Ryder Cup for Europe is trying to keep the pressure off this weekend.
“I’m playing golf like I really don’t care, to be honest,” Poulter said. “I’ve had to work a lot on clearing everything out of my mind to go and play golf. And that’s obviously what I needed to do to play some good golf. And I’m not thinking about it. I’m trying not to think about it. Obviously [reporters] keep asking the questions, so it’s right there. If I play well, commit to the shot that I need to hit then I’m going to have a chance come Sunday.”
Poulter, who ranked fifth in the world in 2010, arrived in Hilton Head ranked 210th. He has just one top-30 finish in eight starts this season, a tie for 17th in the CIMB Classic back in October.
The 41-year-old Englishman was limited to 13 tournaments last season and didn’t play particularly well, aside from a tie for third at the Puerto Rico Open, which is played on the same dates as a World Golf Championships event and has a relatively weak field.
If he fails to earn the necessary money or points in his next two finishes, he will still have conditional status but his starts will be more limited.
“My golf is getting very, very consistent from a ball-striking perspective over the last couple of days and it’s definitely put me in position,” Poulter said. “… Life’s good. What have I got to moan about? Go and play golf like you want to go and enjoy the game of golf and good things will happen.”
Poulter has built a reputation as a good putter, and though he hasn’t been consistent on the greens recently, he believes he can trust the putter Sunday.
“I’ve made a concerted effort on my stroke this week, this past week, back home at Nona (Fla.) and it’s definitely coming,” Poulter said. “It’s definitely paying off. I’ve just got to keep doing the right things, stay patient and they will drop.”
If Poulter gets ambitious and sets his sights higher than a top-12, a red tartan jacket would fit in quite nicely with Poulter’s flamboyant wardrobe. After all, he wore purple tartan trousers Thursday.
Bryan stepping up
Columbia native Wesley Bryan was a proven winner on the Web.com Tour, earning a battlefield promotion in August to the PGA Tour after winning three times last season on the feeder circuit.
He’s now looking to show he can be a winner at the game’s top level.
Bryan, who gained popularity as half of the golf trick shot duo the Bryan Bros. – his brother brother George IV is playing on the LatinoAmerica Tour – enters Sunday’s final round in a tie for sixth at 9-uunder 204, four shots off Jason Dufner’s lead.
He has gone 40 consecutive holes without a bogey and shot a 68 Saturday with an eagle and one birdie.
Bryan made three of four PGA Tour cuts last year with a tie for eighth in the John Deere Classic. In his rookie year on the PGA Tour, Bryan strung together three consecutive top-10 finishes with ties for fourth in both the Genesis Open at Riviera and Honda Classic in consecutive weeks. Those tournaments were won by Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.
“The times I’ve gotten into contention I’ve been able to handle my nerves really well, I’ve been able to hit the shots when I’ve needed to,” Bryan said. “One of the weeks Dustin was doing his thing and nobody was catching him at Riviera, and Honda I didn’t play my best golf but Rickie really separated himself on Saturday and Sunday, so those are the two times I got closest and those are two of the best players in the world.
“I found out I’m not that good yet. Hopefully one day in the near future I can establish myself in that category, but right now I’ve got some work to do. … If I want to be one of them I need to do a little better on the weekends.”
Bryan is making his Heritage debut this week, but it’s hardly his first time on the Harbour Town property during Heritage week. He has been a spectator numerous times, including 2004 when his father, George Bryan III, played with his son George IV caddying after winning a Carolinas PGA tournament qualifier.
“This was one of the weeks I had starred on my schedule. I’m super excited to come here and actually tee it up because I’ve been on the other side of the ropes for a number of years. To see that side of it and to finally make it here as a player has been really, really special.”
The 2012 University of South Carolina graduate, who played on the Grand Strand as a junior numerous times in tournament including the George Holliday Memorial Junior,
has a lot of support as he tries to become the first South Carolina native or resident to win the Heritage in its 49 years.
“It’s a lot of fun just having a lot of family and friends out here, a lot of really familiar faces, it’s been really, really special,” Bryan said.
McGirt in chase
Another South Carolina representative, Boiling Springs resident and Wofford graduate William McGirt, is tied for sixth with Bryan and Luke Donald at 9-under 204.
McGirt has shot three consecutive rounds of 68 and knows it will surely take more Sunday to erase a four-shot deficit and pass five players.
“We’re within striking distance and another good round tomorrow and we’ll have a chance,” McGirt said.
McGirt’s 68 Saturday included birdies on the course’s three par-5s and a bogey-birdie exchange on the eighth and ninth holes. “I got all the par-5s but didn’t get anything else, really,” McGirt said. “We’ve just got to keep giving ourselves looks, that’s the big thing. You can’t shoot 7 or 8 under missing greens. We’ve got to hit a bunch of greens, give myself chances, and honestly hopefully hit it above the hole so I can have a chance to get it to the hole.
“I feel like I’m putting great, I’m still struggling to get the speed. They’re the slowest I’ve ever seen them, and couple it with coming off Augusta last week and they’re going to seem even slower. I just keep leaving it a turn or two short right in the heart.”
Like Bryan, McGirt has enjoyed the support around Harbour Town this week.
“Everybody wants to see a guy from South Carolina put on that tartan jacket,” McGirt said. “It doesn’t matter who it is, they’re going to get behind them big time, I just hope it’s me.”