- Associated Press - Friday, February 22, 2013

MARANA, ARIZ. (AP) - Ian Poulter obviously did a lot more than just fuss over his wardrobe and trendy apparel line during a long break before the Match Play Championship.

Making his first start since the season-opening Tournament of Champions, the flamboyant Englishman was as sharp as ever Friday in a second-round victory over Bo Van Pelt.

“Obviously, it was always risky from the outside looking in, when someone takes six weeks off and comes into this field,” said Poulter, ever the dandy with reddish pink shoes that complemented his burgundy argyle ensemble. “I guess, unprepared is what some people would perceive it to be. I think I’m probably more prepared than I’ve ever been.

“The work I’ve done in the offseason _ changing shafts in all my irons, knocking a 5-wood out of the bag and putting in an extra wedge in the gap that I had, picking up 4 mph of ball speed on the driver _ I couldn’t be any happier coming into this week.”

After winning the 2010 World Golf Championships event at Dove Mountain, Poulter lost his opening matches the last two years. The European Ryder Cup star ended the losing streak Thursday with a 2-and-1 victory over Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher, then made seven birdies _ the last conceded from 10 feet on the 17th hole _ to knock off Van Pelt 3 and 1.

“I played the type of golf that’s going to be tough to beat,” Poulter said. “I had seven birdies, no bogeys, and when you play like that, then and you don’t give your opponent anything, then obviously it’s going to be a tough day for him. So I’m very pleased how I took some of the mistakes from yesterday away and kept it a very clean card.”

The closest thing to a bobble was a three-putt par through a maze of moguls and ridges that cost him the 15th hole.

“It was left to right, right to left, left to right, right to left, left to right with three stages of uphill in it,” Poulter said. “I mean, 4 feet past the pin it goes off the back into the rough. I mean, I would think you’d see more three putts than two putts in that position. What was the pin, 33 yards on, something like that? So it was a 100-foot putt with 12 breaks and uphill, downhill, uphill, uphill, uphill. … That’s the only mistake I made today. I three-putted there from 100 feet. Shucks.”

Poulter will play South Africa’s Tim Clark in the third round Saturday morning. Clark advanced with a 3-and-2 victory over Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen.

“I wouldn’t say I look forward to it any more than I do any of the majors or other WGCs,” Poulter said. “Obviously, my record in match play is pretty good. You come here knowing that if you play six great matches, you’re going to be in a really good position. I think it’s an opportunity, certainly the way the draw is done, where if you get through a good chunk of matches, then obviously it potentially could be slightly easier to win a match-play event than what it might be a stroke play.”

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STREAKING MAHAN: Defending champion Hunter Mahan ran his tournament winning streak to eight, beating South Africa’s Richard Sterne 4 and 3.

“If you put the ball on the fairway and on the green here, it’s going to be a lot easier to score,” Mahan said. “Obviously, the desert and the bunkers and everything, they come into play pretty quickly, so it’s important to know exactly where you’re trying to hit it. I think I just feel comfortable on it. Just from the tees to the greens and everything, I feel like I just know where I need to hit it. I feel like I just have a good understanding of this place.

“Once you get on the greens, the greens are pretty difficult. They have a lot of slopes and a lot of variations. Luckily it seems like they haven’t gotten too fast with the snow and everything. They’re not super quick, so you don’t have to worry about hitting putts too hard.”

Mahan opened Thursday with a 5-and-4 victory over Italian teenager Matteo Manassero. Last year at Dove Mountain, the American beat Rory McIlroy in the final after topping Zach Johnson, Y.E. Yang, Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar and Mark Wilson.

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