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Ian Poulter rode a hot putter all the way up to second place on the scoreboard. (Heathcote/Getty Images)

Poulter's back-nine charge energizes Birkdale gallery

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Ian Poulter proved he's more than a fashion plate Sunday by vaulting all the way up into second place. Now he wants to stay hot all the way through the Ryder Cup.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

SOUTHPORT, England -- He's won eight times around the world, but there are still those fans who know Ian Poulter more for his funky clothes than the way he hits a golf ball.

The 32-year-old Englishman showed he's not just a fashion plate, though, on Sunday as he fired a 69 at Royal Birkdale to vault into second at the 137th Open Championship. The finish was his highest ever in a major championship and positioned him squarely in the mix to make his second Ryder Cup team.

"I've known that I can perform and I can play good," Poulter said. "I guess (I've) just (been) trying to let that come out in me. You know, I've certainly put in a decent show today. There's plenty more in me, and I know I can go better. On that side of it, yeah, I'm fairly happy how I've played today, and I'll take a lot of confidence from that."

This week Poulter didn't break out those pants with the Claret Jug stitched on the leg that he wore several years ago. Instead, he nearly grabbed the real thing when he played his final 10 holes in 3 under to leap into contention.

When he finished off his round in the lengthening shadows Sunday evening, Poulter was two strokes off the pace being set by the eventual champion Padraig Harrington, who was playing five groups behind. Poulter signed his card, the leader in the clubhouse, and gradually made his way to practice tee to stay loose.

Harrington, though, took the suspense out of the last two holes when he nailed a 5-wood at the par-5 17th that sneaked onto the green and curled toward the pin, eventually settling 3 feet away. Poulter was watching in the cabin by the practice tee as the Irishman made the eagle putt for the four-shot lead.

"He's hit it perfectly," Poulter said. "So every credit, great shot. ... He's gone out there and done his stuff around the back nine. He's played incredible. It's a hell of a performance, what can you say? Back to back Opens hasn't been done that often, so it's pretty impressive."

Poulter, somewhat subdued in light pink pants after Saturday's blue-green plaid, got stronger as the afternoon progressed. He was animated as his putter caught fire, yelling and pumping his fist as the 18-footer for his final birdie fell in at the 16th hole. He failed to birdie either of the par 5s, though, which proved costly as he tried to close the gap.

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"At the start of the day, before you tee off, you know, you've got a score in mind," Poulter said. "I shot what I thought was a good round of golf. I would have taken 1-under par before I went out to play today. ... Yeah, I should have finished a couple more under par.

"I missed a good opportunity on 13 from 5 feet, you know, and I go and three-putt 17 (for par), which is a little bit frustrating, and perhaps it might have pushed Paddy a little bit harder. But hats off to Padraig, going back to back, pretty impressive. That's very impressive."

With the wind whipping off the Irish Sea and the pressure mounting, Poulter said he had played the percentages on the front nine. He was 2 over after three holes on Sunday, but he knew he wasn't alone. He went on to hit 10 fairways and 14 greens, taking 31 putts.

"That wasn't the best of starts," Poulter acknowledged. "And I could see that obviously conditions weren't going to get any easier, and I just thought if I can keep hitting good golf shots, keep giving myself chances, keep rolling a few putts in, then it could turn around pretty quickly.

"It did. The holes started to open up a little bit around the back nine. I rolled a couple in and I just played solid down the stretch."

Every quality shot Poulter hit was greeted with lusty cheers from the home crowd of more than 40,000. He fed off their support and he's eager for another chance to contend.

"It was a great buzz around the whole back nine," Poulter agreed. "I don't think I've enjoyed a week as much as I have this week. It's on home soil, the crowd has been absolutely awesome, they've been driving me on. ... To start holing putts around the back nine, to hear everybody screaming and shouting and driving you on is a massive adrenaline rush, it's a massive boost.

"I've done my best, and it hasn't quite been good enough. But I'll be back for lots more of this. It's a nice roller coaster ride."

Poulter would like to play in the Ryder Cup, too. Regardless of whether he qualifies off the European Tour points list or the World Points list, Poulter certainly had to get Captain Nick Faldo's attention. With the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship, among others, on the horizon, he'll have more chances to impress.

"I've certainly put myself right back in the picture," Poulter said. "There's been a lot of talk this year. I haven't achieved what I should have achieved this year so far, and I said at the start of the week it's amazing what one week can do to your whole year.

"Let's hope that this will springboard me on to have a massive push over the next few weeks before the Ryder Cup gets picked. You know what, I want to make this side. I've made it clear from day one. It was great to be in it four years ago. I feel I've got a lot to offer to the side, and if I play like I did today, then the Ryder Cup side would be a great place to be."

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