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After an errant drive on the 15th hole Saturday, things went from bad to worse for Ian Poulter. (Stuart Franklin)
After an errant drive on the 15th hole Saturday, things went from bad to worse for Ian Poulter. (Stuart Franklin)

Late lapses cost upbeat Poulter a real chance to contend

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Ian Poulter was feeling great about his game and his chances as he strolled off the 14th tee Saturday. But before he made it to the clubhouse, Carnoustie's killer closing holes added the dapper Englishman to its lengthy list of victims

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (PA) -- A wave to a passing train driver, a thumbs-up to the crowd. Everything was going so well for Ian Poulter Saturday, and as he walked off the 14th green he pronounced cheerily: "Nice morning for it."

Five under par for the day and one under for the Open Championship, Poulter was doing what all the early starters were hoping to achieve -- a charge through the field into the top 10 and into contention before conditions deteriorated.

But Carnoustie's final four holes comprise one of the most feared stretches in all of golf, and they were about to claim another victim.

The 31-year-old double-bogeyed the 15th and, when he bogeyed the next two, a radio reporter wondered if Poulter felt like slashing his wrists. But after a par on the last for a 1-under 70 and 3-over aggregate, the dashing Englishman said he felt fine.

"No, if I did that, I would not be playing the next hole," he smiled. "What can you do? Those holes are brutal and I made one bad swing. I'm not going to kill myself.

"What can you say? I was 5 under through 14 and I could have been 9 under," he added. "I missed some chances and they are very frustrating. But I was clear in my head.

"Over-excited? No. It's just a round of golf and I didn't get in front of myself. I was five behind the leader. It's not as if I was six in front," he said. "I was trying to put myself in position with nine to play tomorrow. It's a shame really and I'm just frustrated to let up such a fantastic round."

Poulter turned in 33, then made an eight-footer for birdie at the 383-yard 11th as the gallery following him began to grow.

On the next tee, he was just about to drive off when the driver of a passing freight train sounded his horn. A few seconds later and it could have had dire consequences, but Poulter was able to back off and gave a wave.

The crowd came to his aid on that green. His approach finished some 30 feet from the hole, but was knocked a further 20 feet away by the ball of playing partner Tom Lehman.

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Poulter had no idea, but was told what had happened and after moving his ball back almost made the putt.

He almost holed-in-one on the 176-yard 13th and, though furious with himself for missing his three-foot birdie opportunity, he made amends with a superb bunker shot to 18 inches for his fifth birdie at the par-5 14th.

Adrenaline pumping and running and jumping down the fairways, Poulter was remembering Muirfield in 2002, when the weather turned foul on the Saturday and anybody out early was able to post a formidable target.

But he could not sustain things. Lucky to escape the gorse when he pulled his drive down the 472-yard 15th, his 9-iron second snagged in the rough and went into the edge of a bush.

Forced to take a penalty drop, he ran up a 6, then failed to get up and down from sand on the 248-yard 16th as the wind began to pick up. Off the tee at the 461-yard 17th, he mishit a 4-iron into the Barry Burn and did well to limit the damage to 5.

At least he managed a solid par on the last, but a round that promised so much had fizzled out and, as attention turned to other players, Poulter had almost certainly left himself with too much to do over the closing 18 holes.

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