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 paycheque, 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.