Patrick Finley: Stricker's fist-bump luck runs out

Poulter puts damper on 14th seed's birthday with 3 and 2 victory
2013-02-24T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:56:28Z Patrick Finley: Stricker's fist-bump luck runs outPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 24, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Sometime Friday, Steve Stricker developed the habit of fist-bumping the police officer providing security for his WGC-Accenture Match Play round.

The cop's hands were to his side, and Stricker walked up and gave him the knuckles anyway.

The Wisconsin golfer continued his good luck charm Saturday with the same officer, Sgt. Tim Brunenkant of the Marana Police Department.

He smiled every time a Midwestern transplant shouted out the name of his home state or his alma mater ("That's one for Illinois, Steve!" someone exalted), as though he'd never heard it before.

He looked almost every well-wisher in the eye, even when he was walking up the fairway.

When he was serenaded with "Happy Birthday" - Stricker turned 46 Saturday, making him the second-oldest of the tournament's 64 participants, missing the lead by seven weeks - he seemed touched.

I even stood Saturday and watched Stricker, who once fixed his swing by hitting from a trailer in the frozen Sconnie winters, rake his own sand trap, sending his caddie a hundred yards ahead.

Feet from me, Stricker made a 31-foot putt to beat Scott Piercy on the last hole of the morning Round of 16 match.

"Very excited to be moving on," he said.

So was I.

I figured he'd make for a great story.

Stricker, who had tanked in the Ryder Cup and since took up a part-time schedule to spend time with his family, was one win from making the final four at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain.

Then I looked up at his afternoon opponent, and sighed.

Ian Poulter snatches up Match Play foes like a hawk would a cute puppy.

The 2010 champion's eyes don't bug out the way others do.

"I had my glasses on," the Brit quipped.

Using the same yardage book he did three years ago, Poulter beat Stricker, 3 and 2, by logging six birdies and an eagle.

Stricker won the first hole, giving Poulter his first deficit of the tournament. Two holes later, Poulter holed a 39-foot, 8-inch putt, which made a 90-degree left-hand turn, to take a lead he'd never relinquish.

"Managed to keep my nose in front, I guess," Poulter said, "with a typical match play swing."

Someone asked where his confidence came from.

Poulter - who is 22-9 in Match Play, tying Stewart Cink for the third-most wins - paused.

"I've got a lot of it," was the best he could say.

Asked in a different way later, he had a similar answer.

"Does it surprise me?" he repeated. "I love match play."

The No. 3-seeded Brit was up one through three, two through six and three through eight.

Stricker showed life on 10, then hit his drive on 11 into the cactus.

While taking a practice swing, his left leg caught a prickly pear pad; volunteers helped him pick needles from his socks.

From then on, the closest Stricker got to winning a hole was on the last green.

"There were a couple of guys there that probably had one too many to drink," Poulter said. "I'm kinda looking over my chip shot and some guy shouts out behind me, 'Pick it up!'"

Stricker did just that.

Poulter said later he might have given it to the American anyway.

"For a split second it was a little off-putting," he said. "I guess I had to hole a 12-footer to finish the match."

And he did.

On the course, Poulter is polite but not chummy.

He's a cold-blooded winner.

"He has a great short game, he's a great putter," said Hunter Mahan, the defending champ who draws Poulter in this morning's semifinal. "But to me his determination and his will is his greatest strength.

"You're going to see - he's never gonna think he's out of a hole. I can never think that he's out of a hole because I know he can chip in or putt from anywhere."

He likes it here, too, joking that he fell in love with the event's old site, La Costa, before it washed out due to biblical rainstorms.

"So we've gone from paddy field to dry field up here," he said. "It doesn't matter to me.

"It's match play."

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @PatrickFinley

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