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Venetian Macao Open 2016

by SCMP

Venetian Macao Open 2016

Surprise Macao Open leader Ian Poulter defends Ryder Cup structure despite Hazeltine defeat

The flamboyant Englishman cards a stunning first round seven-under 64 at Macau Golf & Country Club in his first competitive outing for four and a half months

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 October, 2016, 3:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 October, 2016, 11:10pm

Flamboyant Englishman Ian Poulter defended Europe’s Ryder Cup structure on Thursday, saying no tinkering was needed to wrest back the trophy in France in 2018.

With debate still simmering after Darren Clarke’s team were “played off the park” by the Americans at Hazeltine, Poulter said Europe had dominated for 20 years and change was not necessary.

“I think we have quite a nice set-up, thank you,” said Poulter as he announced his comeback to competitive golf with a stunning seven-under 64 to share the lead on the first day of the Venetian Macao Open.

“They have [only] held it twice in the past 21 years before this last time.”

Former great Tony Jacklin called for tweaks to the European Tour qualification rules and also questioned Clarke’s player selection.

Poulter, the lifeblood of Europe’s Ryder Cup heroics especially the Miracle at Medinah in 2012, was one of Clarke’s lieutenants at Hazeltine and was part of the decision-making process.

“In hindsight you could do a million things, but it’s not hindsight. We collectively gave Darren our thoughts and he made the decisions that we all felt were right,” said Poulter, who didn’t put a foot wrong on his return to tournament play in Macau on Thursday, despite his toe trouble.

Darren Clarke defends Ryder Cup captaincy in face of criticism – ‘the guys could not have given me an inch more’

“We got played off the park, it’s as simple as that. The scores don’t lie.

“But it was a little closer than the end score showed. The fine lines of the Ryder Cup happen every single time.”

The 40-year-old two-time World Golf Championship winner has been out of action for four and a half months with an inflamed arthritic toe, the result of years of stress from pounding golf balls.

“I had the longest lay off of my life without every touching a club. It must have been at least 14 weeks,” he said.

Tears flow as emotional United States win Ryder Cup at Hazeltine to finally end losing streak

“I had to do it to get the repetitiveness off of that foot because that’s what had created the arthritis, pressing off that foot for however many balls I’ve hit over however many years.”

Poulter has a carbon plate inserted in his orthotics and played basically pain free on Thursday.

Watch: Highlights from Ian Poulter’s first round

“It’s never going to go away so I just have to manage it,” he said. “I haven’t taken any painkillers of anti-inflammatories for several months now. Taking pills is never a good end result.

“I have also been using laser therapy and have a machine at home. It has been very effective.”

Flamboyant Ian Poulter makes Venetian Macao Open the first stop in his comeback from injury

Eyebrows may have been raised why Poulter chose to play in Macau rather than the European Tour’s British Masters, which he hosted last year.

“I made the decision pretty late. I would like to have played the British Masters, but for me I only have a minimum number of events to play for PGA Tour status and obviously next week [the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur] is one I am playing.

Watch: Interview with Ian Poulter

“I wanted to be in the right time zone and without jet lag. It was a tough decision.”

Poulter’s ranking has plummeted to 124th in the world, but he has already started about arresting that with his bogey-free 64 at the Macau Golf & Country Club.

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Poulter shared the lead with Spain’s Carlos Pigem, who went out in a sensational seven-under 28 but could only come home in even par.

“It’s an honour to have my name alongside Ian Poulter,” said Pigem, who broke through for his first win on the Asian Tour in Taiwan in July.

Watch: Highlights from Carlos Pigem’s first round

“I’ve been playing badly in the past few weeks so I am excited about today’s round. I’ve never shot a 28 before and I hope this is the beginning of good and new things.

“Hopefully I can keep it going for the next three days.”

They are a shot clear of Thai Chapchai Nirat (65) and two clear of Australian Marcus Fraser and 2014 champion Anirban Lahiri of India.

Scott Hend holds off Indian duo to clinch Macao Open triumph

World No 14 Branden Grace of South Africa birdied his last two holes to finish with a two-under 69, while defending champion Scott Hend threw away a great start to finish at even par 71.

Watch: So close for back-to-back eagles for Marcus Fraser

The Australian, who leads the Asian Tour order of merit from Fraser, uncharacteristically dropped five shots on the back nine he has owned for the past three years.

Clarke couldn’t buy a birdie as he started a new chapter in his golfing career after the heartbreak at Hazeltine.

The Ulsterman finished at three-over 74 and will have to produce some magic from his glory days in 2011 in the second round on Friday to just make the cut.