By Mark Lamport-Stokes
MARANA, Arizona (Reuters) - A bold decision to take six weeks off since he tied for ninth at the PGA Tour's season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii has, so far, proved to be immensely beneficial for Ian Poulter.
The fashion conscious Englishman spent much of that time making a few equipment changes and working on his swing, a strategy that has helped him stay unbeaten after the first two rounds of this week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
"I think I'm probably more prepared than I've ever been," Poulter told reporters after beating American Bo Van Pelt 3&1 in the snow-delayed second round at Dove Mountain on Friday.
"The equipment change, changing new shafts in all my irons, knocking out a five-wood out of the bag and putting in an extra gap wedge, picking up four miles an hour of ball speed on the driver, I couldn't be any happier coming into this week.
"I couldn't be any happier how I've struck it, how the ball flight has been, my yardages ... If I got beat today, I'd still be walking away thinking that I've made an improvement from where I was six months ago, and that's good."
Asked what had prompted his equipment change, Poulter replied: "When you dive into my stats and look at areas that I need to improve and how the golf courses are set up year-in, year-out, I need to hit it farther to try and stay competitive.
"I also need to hit it higher and stop the ball quicker. If I continue with the same shafts, then it's just not going to happen, so I need to look at ways to try and get better, get a bit stronger."
Long regarded as one of the best putters in the game, the flamboyant Briton has developed into a formidable matchplay specialist with a steely focus unequalled by most of his peers.
He has been a talismanic force for Europe at the Ryder Cup and won the European Tour's Volvo World Match Play Championship in 2011 a year after clinching the WGC title at Dove Mountain.
"Obviously my record in match play is pretty good," said Poulter, who will face South African Tim Clark in the third round on Saturday.
"You come here knowing that if you play six great matches, you're going to be in a really good position.
"It's an opportunity, certainly the way the draw is done, where if you get through a good chunk of matches, then it potentially could be slightly easier to win a matchplay event than it might be in stroke play."
Poulter, who outplayed fellow Briton Paul Casey 4&2 in the 2010 Match Play Championship final to earn his first PGA Tour title, was delighted with his form on Friday as he piled up seven birdies in a bogey-free display.
"When you play like that, and you don't give your opponent anything, then obviously it's going to be a tough day for him," Poulter, a 12-times winner on the European Tour, said with a grin.
"So I'm very pleased how I took some of the mistakes from yesterday away and kept it a very clean card."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)