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Poulter in major contention _ again

Ian Poulter's playing well at a major again. And this time, it could help in his bid to make the European Ryder Cup team.

Poulter shot a 1-under 71 in the PGA Championship on Friday and was a stroke behind leaders Tiger Woods, Carl Pettersson and Vijay Singh after two rounds at The Ocean Course.

European captain Jose Maria Olazabal said he'd keep an eye on Poulter at the PGA Championship, leading up to the Spaniard's two picks in September. Poulter made sure all Olazabal had to do was look near the leaders. It's been that way at most majors this year.

Poulter finished seventh at the Masters and, after tying for 41st at the U.S. Open, had another top 10 at the British Open in tying for ninth.

"It's enjoyable when you're at the top of the leaderboard as opposed to being down the bottom or even fighting to make the cut," Poulter said. "I mean, you're in contention, then it's fun in a sick way, I guess."

Anyone who played The Ocean Course in Friday's conditions knew what Poulter meant.

There were gusts of 30 mph blowing in off the Atlantic Ocean and the scoring average of 78.11 was the highest ever since the PGA Championship switched from match play to stroke play.

But there was the Englishman, breezily hitting fairways and greens — and avoiding the problems certain to come on Pete Dye's layout when you're off target.

"The golf shots this course asks you to hit time and time and time and time again, you really have to hit phenomenal golf shots," Poulter said. "The room for error is so tiny, and when you get it wrong, you can 15 feet below the level of the green in a bad lie, in a wasteland bunker with not much of a shot."

That hasn't happened much for Poulter at the majors this year. He made a bit of a charge on the final day of the Masters before fading to a 5 under — five strokes out of the playoff between champion Bubba Watson and runner-up Louis Oosthuizen.

Poulter played solidly again at Royal Lytham & St. Annes last month and his even-par 280 gave him a top 10.

He opened play Thursday with a 70, four shots behind leader Pettersson. Poulter moved up in the second round because most other competitors couldn't handle the gusting winds.

Poulter stumbled with back-to-back bogeys on the fifth and sixth holes, but regained his footing with a birdie on No. 9. He moved to 4-under with a birdie on the 16th and looked as if he'd head into the locker room with a share of first until his bobble on the 18th hole.

"It was a long day," he said.

He might have a few more long, pressure packed days to play at the end of September when Europe tries to retain the Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club.

Olazabal was asked about Poulter's chances since he stands 20th on the European Ryder Cup points standings, well back from where he needs to be to automatically qualify.

Olazabal cited Poulter's gritty, winning style in match play — Poulter had a 3-1 match record in Europe's win at Celtic Manor two years ago — and said the Englishman was close to being at top form.

"He's not all that far away," Olazabal said. "He's one of the guys that has the best chance of making the team."

That's for another day. Right now, Poulter's concerned with saving enough energy to make it through two more rounds roughly six hours long with winds potentially as strong as they played in Friday.

"There's nothing you can do about it," he said. "I would like to find anybody that can get around this golf course in under six hours in the wind. It's brutal. I mean, it's absolutely brutal."