Poulter completes a surprising turnaround at Players

Ian Poulter is back among the top 100 in the world. He has gone over $1.25 million for the year. He doesn't have to worry about keeping his PGA Tour card next year.

Poulter never imagined all this two weeks ago.

He was playing on a major medical extension from a foot injury last year and had 10 tournaments to earn enough money or FedEx Cup points to keep full status. Poulter fell short when he missed the cut in his 10th start at the Texas Open, and he figured he would be stuck asking for exemptions the rest of the year.

That's when a clerical oversight — discovered by Brian Gay — saved him.

The PGA Tour changed its FedEx Cup points distribution that mainly affected the middle of the leaderboard, but players on medical extensions are supposed to play under the same set of rules as when injury sidelined them. Poulter not only got his card back, but the extra points put him in The Players Championship.

The Englishman took it from there.

He was the only player to seriously challenge Si Woo Kim on the back nine Sunday at the TPC Sawgrass, and his incredible bogey save from the woods on the 18th hole gave him a 1-under 71 and a tie for second with Louis Oosthuizen.

The points make him virtually a lock for the FedEx Cup playoffs this year, and the $940,000 was his second-highest paycheck behind his victory in the Match Play Championship seven years ago.

"It's been a big week," Poulter said. "To have two, three weeks ago been in a position where I wasn't playing The Players and potentially didn't have a card to play and was looking to write nice letters to Jack (Nicklaus) for Memorial and all of those great tournaments that I'd like to play in, things change pretty quick with good golf, and that's what I've done this week. I've played good golf. I think I've still got some work to do. The putter is not quite doing what I would like."

Poulter went 39 consecutive holes without a bogey and he was tied for the lead until Kim made a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 7. Poulter closed within one shot with a birdie on the 11th, but his chances began to slide when he played it safe off the reachable 12th hole. His wedge came up well short, and his long putt from just off the green ran 6 feet by the cup. He missed the par putt, and only had one really good look at birdie the rest of the way.

His best hope was a mistake from Kim, who played bogey-free for a three-shot victory.

Even so, Poulter's outlook sure is different.

"It wasn't looking like a great summer," he said, referring to the prospect of trying to get PGA Tour invitations when he typically spends most of his summer in England with his family. "For that all to turn around the way and for me to be sitting here in a slightly different situation, it's pleasing."


BELLO'S FINISH: Rafa Cabrera Bello couldn't get anything to go in the hole in the final round of The Players Championship.

And then the Spaniard couldn't miss.

He played last four holes in just eight shots, starting with the first albatross in TPC Sawgrass history when his 8-iron on the par-5 16th hole caromed off the bank of a bunker and ran into the pin before dropping for a 2.

"I saw it kick off the bank of the bunker and I was a bit worried at the beginning because I kind of felt that it shot a little too fast," Cabrera Bello said. "And I'm like, 'Oh, is that going to go in the water now?' Then I saw it rolling toward the hole like we see many times. You never expect them to hit or to go in or anything."

This one did.

Cabrera Bello threw his 8-iron high in the air, and it went into the water, though at least it could be retrieved.

It was his first albatross, and he wasn't done. He stuffed his tee shot to 5 feet on the par-3 17th for birdie, and after hooking his tee shot into the water on the 18th, he rolled in a long putt from off the 18th green for par.

He wound up with a 70 and tied for fourth.


PRESIDENTS CUP: Along with all the perks for winning — starting with a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour — Si Woo Kim thought about becoming the next South Korean player in the Presidents Cup later this summer.

The International team is based on the world ranking, and Kim moved up to No. 7. The top 10 automatically qualify, and at No. 28 in the world, he has a healthy advantage over the final qualifying spot. There are still three more majors and a World Golf Championship remaining among tournaments that offer big ranking points.

"I'm very excited to play at the Presidents Cup," Kim said. "From the beginning of this year, I really wished I could be top 10 so I could get the ticket to get in."

The matches were in South Korea in 2015. This year, they will be Sept. 28 to Oct. 1 at Liberty National in New Jersey.


DIVOTS: Dustin Johnson matched the low score of the final round with a 68 and tied for 12th. Even though he was eight shots out of the lead, it was his best finish at The Players Championship. ... Kyle Stanley made a 2 on the par-3 17th all four rounds. It took him eight shots in four rounds, or the same number of shots J.B. Holmes had on Sunday when he made his quintuple bogey. ... Rickie Fowler (2015), Tiger Woods (2013) and Matt Kuchar (2012) are the only Americans to win The Players Championship in the last 10 years.