February 24, 2017

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) Ian Poulter used to start every Monday by opening the link to the Official World Golf Ranking.

It used to be satisfying. Now he doesn't even bother, and hasn't for the last 16 months.

''I've stopped looking, just because it's not a very nice number to look at,'' said Poulter, who has plunged all the way to No. 206. ''It was good when it was No. 5. It was great. I used to look at it all the time. But 200 doesn't sound very good, does it?''

Making it worse is that the ranking file used to contain just 50 names per page, so some scrolling was involved.

''I hate going four pages down,'' Poulter said. ''It's miserable.''

That's also the least of his worries at the moment. Poulter, so emotionally charged during a Ryder Cup, managed a small dose of self-deprecation about his world ranking. Of a more serious nature is that he is running out of time to keep his full status on the PGA Tour.

He took one step on Thursday by opening the Honda Classic with a 4-under 66, two shots off the lead shared by PGA Tour rookies Cody Gribble and Wesley Bryan. Poulter did all his work in three holes, starting with a fairway metal to a back pin that stopped 6 feet away for eagle on the par-5 third hole, a 20-foot birdie putt on the next hole and a bold tee shot over the edge of the water to 15 feet for birdie on the par-3 fifth.

And there were no bogeys, a clean card that allowed him to keep moving forward.

Poulter was going nowhere last year with a foot injury that got so bad he chose to sit out the rest of the season in May. That meant missing the Ryder Cup for the first time in 10 years, though his form was so bad that it would have been a tall order to spend a captain's pick on him.

When he returned in the fall, he had 10 events on a major medical extension to keep his card. He played four times on the PGA Tour and missed two cuts. Going into the Honda Classic, he has six tournaments remaining to earn either $220,301 or 154 FedEx Cup points.

That's in the neighborhood of a fifth-place finish.

''I'm on borrowed time,'' Poulter said. ''Yeah, I need to perform well. ... A win would be nice. I have to think that I've got a chance, I really do. The situation I'm in, I have to be aggressive, but I've got to be careful. I can't make many mistakes.''

Poulter has always been about belief. Geoff Ogilvy once described him as perhaps the most confident player in golf. How else to explain how he could go from folding shirts as an assistant pro to winning his first year on the European Tour, earning a PGA Tour card and becoming America's biggest thorn in the Ryder Cup ?

Poulter reached as high as No. 5 in the world after the 2010 Masters, where he shared the 36-hole lead. The joke was that he got to No. 2 when he once said in a British magazine interview that when he reaches his full potential, it will be just him and Tiger Woods.

He knows the pressure of trying to qualify for a Ryder Cup team or even get into a certain spot in the ranking or a money list to get into a major.

This is different.

''Very different,'' he said. ''I'm looking at it like I would like to be in a position with the six events I'm going to play to earn enough money, which secures everything. Back in the top 50. Back in a position to be in The Open Championship. Back in a position to enjoy the back half of the year.''

He plans to be at the Valspar Championship, Arnold Palmer Invitational and Puerto Rico Open in successive weeks in March.

The clock is ticking.

''I have to earn enough money to continue the season,'' he said. ''So if I play well in those six events, I've obviously got a great chance to do that. If I can win one of those six, then it takes care of it. And if I can win one of the first few, I can get into Augusta.''

That's dreaming big. But that's how Poulter has been his entire career.

The next step, however, is getting through Friday.

Poulter had a golden chance to win this tournament two years ago when he had a three-shot lead going into the final round, and then he hit five balls into the water to shoot 75. That's one he'd like to have back, especially now.

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