The biggest surprise about the taming of Ian Poulter in the WGC World Match Play semi-final at Dove Mountain was that it was done by an American.
Poulter's Ryder Cup status is such that he regarded himself as a "marked man" during this week's matchplay event. Given the spot of heckling by a handful of spectators towards the Englishman, on Saturday in particular, that seemingly applied both inside and outside the ropes.
In his semi-final against Hunter Mahan, Poulter finally came unstuck. There was a touch of irony attached to that – not least the fact that Mahan was overlooked by the United States for the last Ryder Cup team.
Mahan, who saw off Rory McIlroy in the final of this event a year ago, cares little for reputation. By the time he defeated Poulter 4&3 the Californian had not trailed in a match in 166 holes at the course. That run was extended by a further three holes in the final against Matt Kuchar. It was Kuchar, though, who prevailed 2&1 in collecting the $1.5m first prize.
It was earlier suggested to Poulter that the United States owed him one, after he played such an influential role in Europe's Ryder Cup win at Medinah. "I'm sure they did," the Englishman said with a smile. "Oh well, we've still got the cup."
Poulter may have been reduced to a bit-part role on Sunday afternoon, in a play-off with Jason Day for third place in which the Australian won by a hole, but he departed Arizona in upbeat mood. After a six-week break he had returned to display flashes of his best form in Tucson. Evidence suggests a light schedule suits Poulter.
"Getting pneumonia last year was a bit of a wake-up call, playing loads of tournaments at the back-end of the year and then going out and playing more at the start of the year – it was too much," Poulter said.
"You have got to take the breaks. You don't realise what it takes out of you when you go gallivanting about around Asia and all over the place, trying toplay golf.
"You have to make sure you do the right work in those six weeks off and you don't neglect any practice. I'd like to do the same at the end of this year. Take some forced breaks. People keep questioning: 'Why aren't you playing?' but you've got to do it. There are enough good tournaments in the world to play a decent schedule."
Poulter's next career goal is to emphasise his ability and consistency by winning a major championship. A similar strategy as he employed in the build-up to this season's opening WGC event will be used as the 37-year-old seeks to break that barren run. "I'll probably play the week before the US Open but take a week off before the Open," he added.
"There's enough rest time in there. I'm barely playing before the Masters, so I couldn't be any fresher going into the summer, which is great.
"You can't do it every week if you are slightly tired. You have to be switched on and ready to go. I feel fresh as a daisy today. It's unbelievable really, I played a lot in the five days. It's a lesson to learn. Take some time off, stay fresh.
"I came here with 13 out of 14 clubs in the bag which were brand new," he added. "They seem to be working really nicely. The ball flight has changed, I'm hitting it a little further off the tee. I can also get to the pins more easily because my ball flight has been higher. It was a shame today but everything that has happened this week is good."
As the final took place, the PGA Tour formally announced its opposition to the proposals from the Royal & Ancient and United States Golf Association to ban anchored putting strokes from 2016. A consultation period on the matter ends on Thursday.
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image: © Keith Allison