Why did Poulter go to all this effort? Well, there is almost certainly the little matter of a hefty appearance fee but also, with this $7 million purse as a Rolex Series event, the chance to put early points on the board.
“When I found out this was a Wednesday start, I did consider pulling out, but then I thought if I can get a decent start to the year, it will ease my schedule later,” Poulter said.
“I feel pretty confident we can go out and have some fun this year after what I achieved in 2018 [a win and six other top 10s]. I’ve never felt better, to be honest. Well, a bit tired, obviously.”
Poulter is in a tie for sixth, four shots behind Shane Lowry. The Irishman’s 10-under 62 not only equalled the course record but also the lowest round of his career.
After losing his PGA Tour card last season, Lowry – who is 75th in the world after cracking the top 20 in 2015 – has decided to concentrate on the European Tour as he targets the 2020 Ryder Cup. There are 18 months until the next match in Wisconsin but with his close friend, Padraig Harrington, named as captain last week, the 31-year-old cannot help but plot his route.
“That is my main goal over the next year and a half,” Lowry said. “I’ve yet to play in the Ryder Cup and to make my debut with Padraig as captain would be a dream. The first thing I need to do is get back into the world’s top 50.”
Lowry is three shots clear of a group on seven under including former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, with Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer alongside Poulter. Westwood birdied the first four holes and, as his resurgence continues, the 45-year-old spoke of the positive influence of Ben Davies.
The sports psychologist is the protégé of Steve Peters, the Team Sky guru whose book The Chimp Paradox is so celebrated.