Poulter punches Masters ticket with dramatic playoff victory

England’s Ian Poulter parred the first playoff hole against Beau Hossler on Sunday to win the Houston Open in Humble, Texas and earn a spot in this week’s Masters.

Hossler and Poulter began the day tied for the lead, and Poulter pulled even with Hossler at 19 under par with a birdie on the final hole of regulation to finish at 269 for the tournament. The two returned to the 18th hole to begin the sudden death playoff, and Poulter drove it in the fairway while Hossler put his ball in a fairway bunker.

Hossler then flared his approach into a green-side bunker and Poulter safely reached the green in two. Attempting to generate a lot of spin with his third shot out of the sand, Hossler flew the green and his ball wound up in the water, all but sealing the victory for Poulter, who had four putts from 33 feet to win the tournament.

Poulter calmly two-putted for par, securing his first stroke-play victory on American soil, a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour and a ticket to Augusta this week.

Poulter was tied for 123rd after the first round, but shot 64, 65 and 67 over the final three rounds for the victory. It is the largest jump from the first round to victory on the PGA Tour in the past 35 years. Only 12 of the past 1,403 winners on the PGA Tour dating back to 1983 were 100th or worse after the first round entering the week.

“To come here this week, I was tired, I was frustrated,” said Poulter, who packed his bags after shooting 1-over on Thursday, assuming he would miss the cut. “A mental switch. I was patient, I waited my time, and this is amazing. I haven’t won’t a stroke play event in the States. To do it this week, after the disappointment of last week, to know I’m going to Augusta, to do it in true fashion, is amazing.”

Jordan Spieth and Agentina’s Emiliano Grillo tied for second place at 16-under, while Tour rookie Sam Ryder took solo fifth place at 15-under.

Poulter built a three-shot lead Sunday with four birdies in his first eight holes. However, a 49-hole streak without a bogey was snapped on the ninth hole, and Hossler, Spieth and Grillo climbed to within one shot of Poulter’s lead. Poulter pushed the margin back to two with a birdie on No. 11, but then Hossler got hot with four consecutive birdies beginning on the 12th hole to take the lead.

Both players parred Nos. 16 and 17, setting up a dramatic finish on the difficult 18th hole. Hossler drove it into the same bunker that would ultimately prove to be his downfall in the playoff, while Poulter drilled it down the center of the fairway.

Hossler managed to reach the green with his second shot, just outside of Poulter’s ball. Hossler’s birdie attempt – which would have won the tournament – stayed just right of the cup, and he tapped in for par. Poulter, known for his clutch putting in several Ryder Cups, then poured in his birdie putt to force the playoff. It was only the sixth birdie on the 18th hole all day.

“I had a good read, obviously,” Poulter told NBC Sports on the 18th green after the win. “I thought Beau hit a good putt, I thought he holed it. I had to dig deep today, just rolled it in at the right time.”

It is the first victory of any kind for Poulter since 2012, and he entered the year playing on a major injury exemption.

“This one’s for Katie, my wife,” Poulter said. “She’s been a rock for the last few years, and it’s been tough, it’s been hard. I’ve been injured, and it’s been difficult. There’s been stuff going on and you know what? She’s the reason I’m here.”

NOTES: Phil Mickelson shot bogey-free 67 Sunday to finish in a tie for 24th at 10-under. The last time he shot a 67 in his final round before the Masters was in 2006. He went on to win the Masters that year. … Russell Henley turned in the low round on Sunday with a 6-under 65 that vaulted him into a tie for eighth place. Spither’s 66 was tied with Matt Every and Rob Oppenheim for the second lowest score of the final round.

–Derek Harper, Field Level Media

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