Capitals

Ian Poulter rallies to win HSBC Champions in China

201211030432163595583-p2.jpeg

Ian Poulter rallies to win HSBC Champions in China

SHENZHEN, China (AP) Ian Poulter showed he can be a star even when playing only for himself.

One month after leading an improbable European rally in the Ryder Cup, Poulter won for the first time this year. He closed with a 7-under 65 Sunday to come from four shots behind and win the HSBC Champions for his second career World Golf Championships title.

It won't overshadow what he did at Medinah in the Ryder Cup - five straight birdies to pick up a crucial point in fourballs and winning his singles match to complete a 4-0 week. Even so, it was important to the Englishman that the year not pass without a victory of his own.

``I've only been one season without a victory and I certainly didn't want to go another one,'' Poulter said after his two-shot win at Mission Hills. ``As well as I've played this year, it would have been a disappointment personally to have gone that year without winning.''

Phil Mickelson (68), Jason Dufner (64), Scott Piercy (65) and Ernie Els (67) tied for second. Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen shared the 54-hole lead, but each shot a 72 in the final round to tie for sixth.

Poulter won for the first time since the World Match Play Championship in Spain in 2011. His other WGC title came in 2010 in Arizona at the Match Play Championship. Turns out he can also get it done in stroke play.

On a day when five players had at least a share of the lead at some point - and several others were close - it was the charismatic Poulter who was the steadiest. Starting the day four shots behind, he surged into the lead with four birdies on the front nine and two more after making the turn.

Mickelson and Els tried to stay close, but both wasted opportunities to pull even. Mickelson missed a 5-foot par putt on No. 12, while Els dropped a shot on the 14th when his 3-foot par putt caught the lip. He narrowly missed a birdie putt on the final hole.

``I know where I came up short,'' Els said. ``But other than that, I played it really nice and struck it nice. Almost made him think there on 18, that putt almost went in.''

Defending champion Martin Kaymer looked set to make a final-day comeback for the second straight year. Last year, the German birdied nine of his last 12 holes to rally from five shots down in the final round for an unlikely three-stroke victory. He started six shots behind Sunday and picked up five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine until a triple bogey on the 17th.

Poulter, meanwhile, sank a 5-foot putt on the 14th hole for birdie and a two-stroke lead. Then, after setting himself up with a 20-foot putt on the tricky 15th hole, he lined up the shot perfectly and dropped it for birdie.

He was so composed that he didn't even mind the cameras and cellphones in the gallery. He's even tried some Chinese to quiet the crowd this week.

``I'm not sure what I'm saying. I'm trying to say `no telephones,''' he said with a laugh. ``I backed away a number of times, but I was able to refocus knowing that there's probably going to be a few photos taken during the swing.''

With Mickelson still in position to catch him, Poulter hit a difficult bunker shot on the 18th to 10 feet and holed the putt to seal the win.

``I saw what he was doing. I was aware,'' Mickelson said. ``So I tried to carve a few shots in to some of the pins and wasn't able to get close enough to them to make birdies to catch him.''

It was another Englishman who started the day in front, playing the best golf of anyone in the field. Westwood putted brilliantly Saturday, making 11 birdies to shoot a 61, one of the lowest rounds of his career. Westwood jumped to a three-stroke advantage Sunday after making two birdies on the front nine. But that's when his putting began to break down.

On the par-3 No. 5, he three-putted for a double bogey. He then missed putts within 10 feet on three consecutive holes before completely unraveling on the back nine with three bogeys, including one on the 15th when he hit a chip shot into a group of photographers.

Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, was unable to regain the form that saw him reach 16 under after two rounds - the lowest 36-hole score to par in a World Championship Golf event since the series began in 1999. He struggled with his putting for a second consecutive day and had four bogeys.

With the $1.2 million winner's paycheck, Poulter moves up to fourth spot in the European Tour's Race to Dubai. The money will also come in handy considering he just treated himself to a new car.

``I've already spent the check last week,'' he said. ``Yes, it was a vehicle and yes, it was very expensive.''

Poulter moved up to a No. 15 ranking, one spot better than where he started the season.

Brandt Snedeker followed his career-best 60 in the third round with a 71 and was never a factor. The bigger turnaround belonged to Dustin Johnson, who was 18 shots better than his third-round score. Johnson followed his 84 Saturday by closing with a 66.

Quick Links

Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

These are not the same old Caps.

Heading into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Monday, there was a lot of handwringing around Washington and with good reason. The Capitals were facing elimination for the first time this postseason. Of course the fans were on edge; no one wanted this run to end.

But even though the Caps are competing for the conference crown and have gotten past their archrivals to get here, the refrains leading into Game 6 were the same ones we’ve heard from past years.

 “They don’t want it enough.”

“There’s no heart.”

“Totally outcoached.”

“Chokers.”

And perhaps most damning, “Same old Caps.”

Stop it already.

Seriously, how can anyone have watched this postseason and walked away thinking this is the same Caps team?

Does no one remember the start of the season? Some people didn’t even think they would make the playoffs. Others were advocating the team trade Alex Ovechkin and start over. Yet here they are.

Finally, finally they got past the second round hump. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins—ending their two-year reign as Stanley Cup Champions—and handed Mike Sullivan his first ever series loss as the Penguins head coach.

And no, Mike Wilbon, just because they made it past the second round doesn’t mean it’s OK to lose in the Conference Finals. But considering how they got there, they showed they have at the very least changed the narrative surrounding the Capitals.

Washington lost the first two games of its series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round and went on to win four straight to advance. In the second round, they faced the two-time defending champions, a team they had beaten only once in the playoffs in franchise history and a team that had not lost a playoff series since 2015.

And they won.

And yet, people are acting like nothing changed with the Caps. Why? Because they lost three in a row to Tampa Bay?

OK, you've got a point. What kind of a team loses three straight in the playoffs? Hard-nosed teams with tough coaches that play the right way like Columbus or Anaheim wouldn’t let that happen to them. Oh, actually Columbus lost four in a row to the Caps and the Ducks got swept in the first round. Never mind.

Well, certainly not a team with a championship history like the Los Angeles Kings. Oh wait, never mind, the got swept by Vegas. Bad example.

Well, surely an original six team with a championship pedigree like the Boston Bruins would never let that happen. Oh yeah, they lost four straight to the same Tampa Bay team.

OK, OK, but were any of those teams really contenders this year? I mean, none of those teams were as good as Winnipeg and they won’t let themselves lose three in a row in the playoffs.

That’s because they lost four straight to Vegas in the conference final.

You see where this is going, right?

It just boggles the mind that anyone could see the game plan Barry Trotz put together in Game 6 in Pittsburgh, without three top-six forwards including Nicklas Backstrom, and win in overtime and still complain that he is always outcoached in the playoffs. He certainly wasn’t outcoached in that game or that series.

It’s baffling that anyone can see how Washington rallied past Columbus after losing Game 1 and Game 2, recovered from a disastrous Game 1 to Pittsburgh and won the first two games in Tampa Bay against a favored Lightning team and complain that this team “doesn’t want it enough.”

Chokers don’t advance to the third round. Chokers don’t beat the two-time defending champions when no one else could. Chokers don’t force seven games against a Tampa Bay team that finished off both of their prior series in just five games.

Just stop. Find a new storyline to push because this one is lazy and played out. It’s been done.

Don’t get me wrong, losing four in a row after winning Game 1 and Game 2 on the road would have really stung. With the history this team has, the fact that they finally got past Pittsburgh gave this team a feel of destiny. If they go on to lose Game 7 and end their run without a Stanley Cup or even a conference crown to show for it, that would be disappointing. No question about it.

But to say these are the “same old Caps” if they lose to Tampa Bay? That’s ridiculous. They have already put those demons to rest. Three straight losses to the Lightning don’t change that and neither will whatever happens in Game 7.

Regardless of what happens on Wednesday, whether the Caps win or lose, no one should come out and say these are the same old Caps. They have already proven that’s not the case.

Those Caps are gone. Now let’s see how far these Caps can go.

MORE CAPITALS STORIES

Quick Links

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Ian Mahinmi

usatsi_10781447.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Ian Mahinmi

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Ian Mahinmi's season...

Player: Ian Mahinmi

Position: Center

Age: 31

2017-18 salary: $15.9 million

2017-18 stats: 77 G, 14.9 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 55.6 FG%, 00.0 3P%, 70.3 FT%, 55.6 eFG%, 107 ORtg, 107 DRtg

Best game: 1/12 vs. Magic - 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, steal, assist, 7-for-8 FG, 3-for-4 FT

Season review: After missing 51 games in the 2016-17 season, the first of his four-year contract with the Wizards, center Ian Mahinmi managed to stay healthy for the entirety of 2017-18. He appeared in 77 games and gave the Wizards a good look at the player they signed to a $64 million deal in free agency.

Mahinmi was a mainstay in the Wizards' rotation as their backup center. While Marcin Gortat started all 82 games at center, Mahinmi at times got the nod late in games as head coach Scott Brooks favored his defense.

Though Mahinmi was available all season, he still fell short of the numbers he put up in his last year in Indiana, in 2015-16. Mahinmi's minutes per game were his fewest since 2010-11, and his points and rebounds were his fewest since 2013-14. 

Mahinmi's numbers were affected by his low minutes, as he could never quite crack the top six or seven spots in Brooks' rotation. His numbers per 36 minutes, however, were on par with how he played in Indiana before the Wizards signed him to a big contract.

2015-16 per 36: 13.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 1.3 spg

2017-18 per 36: 11.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 1.2 spg

That, of course, only means so much. Mahinmi may have been relatively efficient with his minutes, but the consistency wasn't there to convince Brooks and the coaching staff to increase his role.

It will be interesting to see what the team plans for Mahinmi next season, as this summer could bring changes to their frontcourt. Both of their starting big men - Gortat and Markieff Morris - have one year left on their contracts. If Gortat in particular is dealt, that could open the door for Mahinmi to earn more playing time.

The Wizards could also add to their frontcourt through the draft. If they get a rim-protecting big man in the first round, that could be bad news for Mahinmi's playing time. Like several Wizards players, Mahinmi's role is up in the air entering this summer.

Potential to improve: Finishing around rim, consistency, limiting fouls

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Markieff Morris, PF

Marcin Gortat, C

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Tomas Satoransky, PG

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!