By Tony Jimenez
GULLANE, Scotland (Reuters) - Ian Poulter says it is a real shame Rory McIlroy will miss next week's British Open at St Andrews but he believes his Ryder Cup team mate could return to golf better than ever after his injury layoff.
Four-times major winner McIlroy, who triumphed in the Open at Royal Liverpool 12 months ago, is unable to defend his trophy after rupturing ligaments in his left ankle while playing football with his friends last weekend.
"Rory would have wanted a run at St Andrews next week, it's a good course for him," Poulter told Reuters in an interview during the Scottish Open at Gullane.
"There is not a lot of danger down the left half of the course. He hits it right to left off the tee so he would definitely have been licking his chops (lips) at the prospect.
"It's a shame the injury has taken him out. It will be hard for him to sit at home and watch it on TV but sometimes these things happen and it makes you come back even stronger," added Poulter.
"He's sitting there as world number one right now so a guy like him, as good as he is, coming back potentially stronger, is something we're all going to have to watch out for."
McIlroy has been criticized for playing football with a major championship just around the corner but Poulter said the 26-year-old Northern Irishman had simply been unfortunate.
"You can wrap yourself up in cotton wool for the rest of your life if you want but having a little kickaround with your mates, I would have said 999 times out of 1,000 you are good," said Europe's Ryder Cup talisman.
"He got unlucky, it was just one of those situations that's caught him out. It was a freak accident but accidents happen," added Poulter who missed the cut at the Scottish Open after rounds of 70 and 71 gave him a one-over total of 141.
The injury has deprived the golfing world of a potential shootout between British Open and U.S. PGA champion McIlroy and American Jordan Spieth, 21, who has won this year's U.S. Masters and U.S. Open.
Poulter said the contrast in styles between the two youngsters was particularly interesting.
"With Rory and Jordan being ranked number one and two in the world, golf is in good hands," he said. "We've got two fantastic players up there at the forefront.
"You've also got two slightly different players. Rory hits the ball 350 yards and Jordan holes putts from 350 yards," Poulter joked. "It's kind of a good mix."
Like Spieth, the Englishman is renowned as an excellent putter and never was that facet of his game better illustrated than at the 2012 Ryder Cup in Chicago when he holed five birdie putts in as many holes in the Saturday afternoon fourballs.
The 39-year-old Poulter has won 12 times on the European Tour, including two World Golf Championship events, and said he was not stressing about the fact he has yet to land a major victory.
"I'm getting on, getting ever older," laughed the world number 28. "If I hung up my boots today I could quite happily sit at home and be a very happy man.
"What I've achieved has been pretty good. I don't believe I'm finished, I think I've still got quite a lot to offer.
"Not only would I like to add more general tournament wins to my tally, I'd like to add some majors as well. If I did that I would be a very, very happy camper," said Poulter.
"If not I can sit at home and certainly say I've given it a great run. I'm quite happy with the trophy cabinet right now but I've left some space for extra additions."
Poulter made his British Open debut at St Andrews 15 years ago and has twice come close to winning golf's oldest major.
"I was runner-up in 2008 and tied for third in 2013, close but no cigar so it would be nice to swap the silver salver for the silver jug at some stage," he said smiling.
"I understand more about my game now than I did 15 years ago. I'm older and wiser in some respects and I feel my game is stronger than it was.
"When I get into certain positions these days I like to think I'm more equipped to take on certain challenges and hopefully I can do that next week," said Poulter.
Poulter was speaking after handing over the "captaincy" of the online Ballantine's Golf Club (www.ballantinesgolfclub.com) to Europe's triumphant 2014 Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)