Poulter disappointed in Arizona
Ian Poulter is back in the world's top 10 for the first time in 25 months - but not in the way he wanted after losing in Tucson.
Europe's Ryder Cup hero failed to make it into the final of the Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, losing 4&3 to defending champion Hunter Mahan.
It meant a seventh all-American final in the event's 15-year history, with Matt Kuchar beating Australian Jason Day by the same margin in the other semi-final.
"It's easy to get up for Ian because he's so good at match play," Mahan said.
"I played really well. I was getting up and down from a lot of tough spots."
Winner of the title three years ago, Poulter was also trying to make it back-to-back World Golf Championship victories after his triumph at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai last November.
He had beaten Stephen Gallacher, Bo Van Pelt, Tim Clark and Steve Stricker to reach the last four, but Mahan has not trailed in any game since the first round last year and that remained the case going into the clash with his 2010 Ryder Cup teammate Kuchar.
"It's a shame really and disappointing," Poulter said. "Hunter played very solid and chipped unbelievably well."
Instead of battling for a first prize of almost £965,000 he had to gather himself for a third-place play-off with Day where the winner got £395,000 and the loser £321,000.
"I guess I'm playing for a little bit of change and some world ranking points," added Poulter, who like most semi-final losers would probably have preferred to fly straight home.
In bitterly cold and increasingly windy conditions Mahan birdied the long second and although he bogeyed two holes later Poulter did the same on the next to fall behind again.
The gap was two when Mahan played a delicate chip to two feet on the eighth and after both took six on the next par five, the 11th, the 30-year-old Californian then produced the shot of the morning.
Over the green on the short 12th - and with his opponent on the putting surface - Mahan chipped in from around 20 yards and went three up.
"It just looked perfect as soon as I hit it and it trickled in," he added.
Poulter stated: "It was a huge turnaround and from that point there was no let-up."
The gap quickly became four when Poulter missed the fairway, the green and a five-foot putt for a bogey at the 14th. He came back with a birdie, but it was matched and that was that.
Kuchar had a double bogey and three bogeys in his clash, but there were also three birdies and that was good enough with Day, on his own admission drained from his earlier efforts, an approximate six over par when he shook hands.
Three up by the turn, Kuchar had his double on the 10th after hooking his drive into an unplayable lie in the desert scrub, but was not made to pay for another dropped shot at the 12th and Day then took seven on the 583-yard next.
Kuchar, who reached the quarter-finals in 2011 and the semi-finals last year, said: "The wind picked up and made things really challenging - pars are good scores."
Day, who still had Poulter to face, even talked about going off for a sleep and commented: "I just wasn't as sharp. I came out a little flat and made a lot of mental errors. I pretty much gave him the game."