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Ryder Cup: Ian Poulter under pressure to deliver for Europe against United States at Whistling Straits


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Show Ian Poulter a team room with Europe posted on the door and he will find a locker inside that contains the magical powers of Clark Kent's phone box.

Clad in the continent's blue and gold, Poulter transforms. His eyes grow large and burn with passion, his chest puffs out, he struts between shots and he wills his ball into the hole time and again.

In the Ryder Cup this relatively average touring pro becomes a golfing Superman. Famously, though, he prefers being known as the postman - the one who always delivers.

Poulter has built a staggering reputation in an era of European domination of the biennial clash with the United States. Once again it will be put to the test when he joins the team to defend the trophy at Whistling Straits from 24-26 September.

But there is huge pressure on Poulter to justify captain Padraig Harrington's faith. The Englishman was picked as a wildcard - for the fifth time in seven appearances - alongside Sergio Garcia and Shane Lowry to complete Europe's 12-man team which will travel to Wisconsin.

This trio were selected at the expense of former world number one Justin Rose, for whom a compelling argument for selection could also be made.

Throughout the Covid-interrupted qualifying process Harrington made it clear that it would be hard not to select Garcia, Europe's leading points scorer, and Poulter, so often an inspirational hero and winner on five of his six starts.

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Poulter lapped up the adulation after helping Europe to a big win over the US at Le Golf National in 2018

At 45 Poulter's Ryder Cup passion remains undimmed. But now the veteran has to find a way to provide his usual service at a time when youthful big beasts of America seem pretty dominant in the delivery business.

You might say it is a challenge of Amazonian proportions. Just look at the way that the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup spoils were distributed - all 12 of the American team made it to the season's end with only four Europeans going the distance.

Poulter was not one of them. World number one Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland and Garcia were the only Euros to make it to the lucrative Tour Championship earlier this month.

Harrington has to hope this is not a Ryder Cup too far for the talismanic Englishman. Poulter won two points out of four at Le Golf National near Paris in 2018 as Europe won 17½-10½.

He has lost only six of 22 matches in six previous appearances, remains unbeaten in singles and inspired the "Miracle at Medinah" when Europe came from 10-4 down to defend the trophy. That was nine years ago and the last time they won on American soil.

It was also the last time Poulter, who made his debut in 2004, played an away match for Europe. "I still feel young enough to deliver as much energy as I can," Poulter told BBC Sport.

"Seventeen years later we are going to give number seven a go and hopefully deliver as many points as I possibly can.

"I've been pretty decent with those deliveries and hopefully we can do that again."

This Ryder Cup will be played on a huge golf course, measuring almost 8,000 yards. It is clear from the American selections, which included big-hitting Tony Finau and Scottie Scheffler, that it will be set up for bombers off the tee.

Poulter does not fall into that category. He currently ranks 96th in strokes gained tee to green on the PGA Tour, but remains typically undaunted.

"Mindset, determination, passion, adrenalin - you know everything that comes from within as a team player is something that burns hard for me," Poulter said.

"I get more motivated to be part of a team than I do to play individually."

He says he easily puts aside selfish tendencies when he joins a collective effort to beat Americans.

"I've put my arms around a number of players that have needed it at the time so I'm a player who can be paired with so many different players. I can play foursomes, fourballs and obviously played singles and delivered most of my points."

And he insists his relative lack of length should not be an obstacle in the upcoming match on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. "You've got to get it in the hole," he stated.

"I'm fourth on putting stats for the year (he's actually third and the highest placed of anyone in the match). So if you look at pure stats of being able to hole putts I've holed a few and I feel pretty comfortable with putter in hand right now."

But he is not underestimating the strength of the challenge Europe face at Whistling Straits. All of the American side are in the top 21 places in the world rankings.

Their average standing is ninth, Europe's mean is 30. "They are a stacked team, but as we've seen through the years to be the underdogs is a position we have delivered well on," Poulter said.

"The golf course, we don't know exactly how it is going to play, how windy it is going to be."

Whistling Straits is on the shore of Lake Michigan, about 150 miles north of Chicago

In three previous visits to Whistling Straits for US PGA Championships Poulter tied for 37th in 2004, withdrew after three rounds in 2010 and comfortably missed the cut five years later.

Lowry, the 2019 Open champion, missed the cut in both his appearances but possesses a game well suited to potentially autumnal conditions.

"Europe have to hope the wind blows," a former skipper told me last week. "If it is flat calm, Europe are stuffed because it will be target golf to suit the Americans."

It is a big call to leave out Rose, even though it has been a disappointing and injury-hit year in which he moved from the Bahamas back to the UK.

Rose finished outside the top 125 on the PGA Tour, but did post two major top-10s and was fourth the last time the PGA was played at Whistling Straits.

"The Americans will be much happier that Rose is not in the team," three-times skipper Bernard Gallacher told me after the former world number one finished sixth at last week's BMW PGA with a closing 65 at Wentworth.

The 41 year old won two out of four points in France and possesses a commendable winning ratio of almost 57%. He is unlucky to have been left out and although Harrington can never admit it, there must be regret at having only three rather than four wildcard picks.

The skipper is left with a team that has three rookies, Lowry, Hovland and Bernd Wiesberger.

Ranked 61 in the world, Wiesberger, who will be the first Austrian to play Ryder Cup, has played seven US events this year with a best finish of tied 31st back in March.

That was the last time another automatic selection, Lee Westwood - who lines up for a record-equalling 11th appearance - played his best golf, while Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick are also somewhat struggling.

With the form of several qualifiers a concern, Harrington had to make the right wildcard picks. That pressure now shifts to the players he has entrusted in an environment where there will be next to no away support.

"I've played with a target on my back often and this will be no different," Poulter told me. In his last two away matches he has won eight points out of nine.

He knows what to expect, but can he still deliver?

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