Poulter grateful for late Rich lifeline

Late Hong Kong Open entrant Ian Poulter, who is outside the top 50, began well with a 67.
Late Hong Kong Open entrant Ian Poulter, who is outside the top 50, began well with a 67.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG • Ian Poulter made the most of his last-minute entry into the Hong Kong Open by carding a three-under 67 in the opening round yesterday.

The Englishman is three strokes behind joint leaders Lu Wei-chih of Chinese Taipei and Italy's Andrea Pavan. But he would not have had the chance to tee off if former Major winner Rich Beem had not given up his place for Poulter.

"Fairly happy with that result today... 3 under par and left a few out there," Poulter, who landed in Hong Kong from the United States on Wednesday, wrote on Twitter. "Fair chance of a little snooze in the courtesy car to hotel."

Beem, the 2002 PGA Championship winner who now plays part-time, was asked to drop out of the event after it emerged Poulter had been pushed out of the world top 50 and was in danger of losing his European Tour membership.

Any player wishing to play for Europe in the Ryder Cup must retain European Tour membership and so European Tour officials asked American Beem, 45, to step aside.

Poulter only realised the problem on Monday morning, and by Tuesday he was on a plane to Asia.

"I feel very sorry for Rich to have been put in this situation. He has been very gracious and it is a lovely gesture," said the 39-year-old, who played a key role in Europe's come-from-behind 2012 Ryder Cup triumph at Medinah.

He dropped to No. 51 after Andy Sullivan and Emiliano Grillo both won tournaments last week. That meant he was ineligible for the WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai and would have fallen one short of competing in the necessary 13 events on the "Race to Dubai" to retain his European Tour membership.

"It's unbelievably generous of (Beem) to say 'that's fine'," he added. "I am so grateful that he has given me the opportunity to get my numbers in."

Poulter has had an uneven season, which has seen his world rankings plummet. But he admitted he was caught unawares and had to take dramatic action to save his season.

"Obviously this wouldn't have happened if I had played better, but even still, dropping the way I did in the last couple of weeks was drastic," said Poulter, who was ranked 38th last month.

He has not ended the year out of the top 50 since 2005 and admitted the mix-up was down to "bad play and poor management".

"It's really bizarre. It's put everyone in a bad position and I am just really grateful to everyone for helping me out," he added.

The US$2 million (S$2.8 million) Hong Kong Open is the final tournament of the regular European 2015 Tour season.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2015, with the headline 'Poulter grateful for late Rich lifeline'. Print Edition | Subscribe