Poulter turned professional in 1996 gaining his first win at the 1999 Open de Côte d'Ivoire on the European Tour's second tier Challenge Tour; he won promotion to the European Tour itself via the qualifying school later that year. In his first season, he claimed the Italian Open title and was the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year for 2000. Further wins followed in each of the next four seasons, most prestigiously the season ending "tour championship" the Volvo Masters in 2004. He was in the top ten on the Order of Merit in 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2009. In 2010, he finished 4th on the Order of Merit, his highest placing so far. After narrowly missing a place in the 2002 European Ryder Cup team, Poulter was a member of the victorious squad in 2004, where he officially scored the winning points for his team. This entitled him to take up membership of the PGA Tour in 2005, and he has divided his time between the two tours since then.
At the 2008 Masters Tournament, Poulter made a hole-in-one at the 16th hole at Augusta National in the first round. At the 2008 Open Championship, Poulter had the clubhouse lead on the last round before being beaten by defending champion Pádraig Harrington. In the 2008 Ryder Cup, Poulter was the highest points scorer on either side as he scored 4 of Europe's 11.5 points. Europe lost the Ryder Cup 16.5-11.5.
In the 2009 Players Championship, he finished in sole possession of second place at eight under-par, four shots behind the winner, Henrik Stenson. In November 2009, Poulter won the Barclays Singapore Open at the Sentosa Club. He moved into the top-10 of the Official World Golf Ranking in January 2010 with a second place finish at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
In February 2010, he won his first tournament on U.S. soil, beating fellow Englishman Paul Casey 4&2 in the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona. The win moved him to 5th in the world rankings. His ranking gained Poulter a place in the 2010 Ryder Cup in September at Celtic Manor in Wales He won 3 points in the 4 matches he played in the European team's win by 14.5 points to 13.5. In November 2010, he won his second title of the year with a one-stroke victory in the UBS Hong Kong Open.
On 23 February 2011, in Marana, Arizona, Poulter became the first defending champion in nine years to be eliminated in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. He did however enjoy greater success in the European Tour's own match play event, the Volvo World Match Play Championship where he won the title beating Ryder Cup teammate Luke Donald, 2&1, in the final. He had previously beaten the world number one Lee Westwood, Francesco Molinari and Nicolas Colsaerts to get to the final. This was Poulter's second tournament win in a match play event and eleventh European Tour victory. As a result of his win Poulter moved up from 22nd to 14th in the Official World Golf Ranking..
Poulter was one of José María Olazábal's two "captains picks" for the European Team at the 2012 Ryder Cup. He won all the 4 matches he played over the three days of the event, and was a key figure in sparking his team's victory by 14.5 points to 13.5.
On 4 November 2012, Poulter won the second World Golf Championship of his career at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shenzhen, China, coming from four strokes back in the final round to win by two from four other players. He shot a final round of 65 which included 8 birdies in his first 15 holes to seize control and despite a late bogey, closed out the victory by two strokes. He became only the second European to have won multiple WGC events after Darren Clarke. The victory took Poulter to 15th in the rankings.
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