Call it the Sergio affect. Luke Donald and Ian Poulter have clearly been inspired by their Ryder Cup team-mate’s breakthrough at the Masters last Sunday in their attempt to resurrect their careers.
The English pair are in contention going into the final round of the RBC Heritage tournament at Hilton Head in South Carolina on the PGA Tour. Poulter is on 10-under, following a 69, three behind the leader, Jason Dufner, with Donald one stroke further back after a 72.
This is such a welcome return to form for both after their failures to qualify for the season’s first major. Donald is very close to García. They first met when they were young teenagers on the European amateur circuit and the relationship has flourished since, most notably, in a golfing sense, in winning five out of six matches together in the Ryder Cup.
Donald, 39, is attending García’s wedding in July and confessed to rooting for the Spaniard over fellow Englishman Justin Rose down the stretch at Augusta.
“Because Sergio hadn’t won a major, my allegiance was slightly in his favour,” Donald said “For someone with that much talent to not quite have got it done for so many years was tough on him. I think he deserved it.”
When asked if García’s belated success could provide motivation for his own comeback, the former world No 1 replied: “I still believe that I have the ability to win a major. I’m certainly not hanging up the clubs yet. I’m very committed to working hard and getting past my results the last couple of years. Anyone who’s world No 1 for over a year has the ability to bounce back and hopefully I will.”
How Donald, now down in 96th in the rankings, could do with ending his four-year winning drought with victory at Harbour Town. It would ensure his place in next year’s Masters and go a long way to reinstating him in the all-important world top 50.
If anything, Poulter’s need is yet more pressing. He was sidelined for four months last season with a foot injury and has dropped to 210th in the world. And because of the complex PGA Tour membership rules, the 41-year-old has just two events to earn approximately £115,000 to retain his card. A top-12 placing would be enough this weekend, although Poulter insists he is not thinking about it. It may be no coincidence that García adopted a similar mindset in Georgia.
“I’ve had to work a lot on clearing everything out of my mind – obviously I needed to,“ Poulter said. “I don’t care. Life’s good. What have I got to moan about? Go and play golf like you want to, enjoy it and good things will happen.”
No doubt, García has led many of the supposed old guard to reconsider their own careers and what may be possible. This came to the mind of Graeme McDowell – the 2010 US Open champion who was nine off the lead on four-under after 54 holes at the Heritage – as he watched the Augusta denouement, “I was thinking about Lee Westwood and was thinking what Sergio’s win could do to his mentality?” McDowell said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Lee won the Open this year. Just that little something that kicks off in the back of your brain – ‘maybe I can do it as well’.”