Danny Willett moves further from the doldrums with PGA Championship win

English golfer makes early Ryder Cup statement with victory at Wentworth

 

It felt appropriate for Danny Willett’s latest leap away from the doldrums to take place as the qualifying process started for Europe’s Ryder Cup team. It was in that very environment, three years ago, that things started to go so badly wrong for the Yorkshireman.

Willett, England’s latest champion of the BMW PGA Championship, arrived at Hazeltine in 2016 inside the world’s top 10 having won the Masters five months earlier. Unwanted attentions provided by a vitriolic blog – penned by Willett’s brother – ruined his Ryder Cup debut; whether linked or not, he subsequently suffered a catastrophic loss of form. When heading to Wentworth for this tournament last year, he was ranked 462nd in the world.

Victory in Dubai last November endorsed the sense he was in the midst of a resurgence. Success in the European Tour’s flagship event will propel him back inside the world’s top 50, possibly as high as 31.

Already, it would be a surprise if the 31-year-old does not form part of Pádraig Harrington’s contingent as Europe launch their Ryder Cup defence at Whistling Straits next year. We may soon, if not already, be speaking about yet another upward curve in Willett’s fluctuating career.

“I had an undying want to get back there [to the top],” Willett said. “I was willing to change whatever had to be changed and I think that’s pretty hard to do. It’s hard to jump full throttle into something that you’re not quite sure if it’s going to work out or not. I was able to jump in there and I had the correct people around me.

“All the work that we’ve put in has come forward. To come down the stretch today and enjoy it was beautiful. There was a long time where I didn’t enjoy this at all.”

Willett prevailed relatively comfortably in the end, by three shots from Jon Rahm. A closing round of 67 afforded Willett a 20-under-par aggregate; 68 was his highest score of the week.

There was only brief cause for Willett to fret. When taking to the 11th on Sunday, two shots to the good over Rahm, the leader found trees and heather with consecutive shots. He appeared to jar his wrist when playing from the latter. That Willett limited the damage to a bogey, courtesy of a 50ft putt, felt like a defining moment; Rahm could not reel in the champion at any point over the closing stretch and his hopes ended when he found the water with his second shot on the 18th.

“It’s a little painful,” Rahm admitted. “But nothing a good dinner and a bottle of wine can’t fix.”

Willett had taken painkillers to cure his own, brief pain.

South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout claimed third at minus 16. The American duo of Billy Horschel and Patrick Reed justified trips across the Atlantic with a share of fourth, one shot further back.

Rory McIlroy added a 67 to rounds of 76, 69 and 65 meaning Thursday stood out as somewhat freakish in the world number two’s tournament. Next for McIlroy, after a share of ninth place, is the Dunhill Links in Scotland from Thursday, where he will play in the company of his father.

“I think my dad will be happier than I am because he at least has a partner now that’s playing pretty well,” said McIlroy. “We’re looking forward to it. It’s a very relaxed week. I’m going to go up there and have a good time. St Andrews is a great town.

“I think if you take these pro-ams too seriously, you start to get frustrated with how long you’re out there and all that sort of stuff. So we will try to keep it lighthearted and hopefully that’s the key to playing some good golf.”

Shane Lowry will head to Scotland in good form after he completed his first event on the European Tour since his British Open win at Portrush with a bogey-free 66 that saw him finish one shot behind McIlroy on 10 under in a share of 11th position.

And Harrington will also have a bounce in his step after he carded a four-under 66 that included an eagle-three on the 17th to finish on level par for the tournament. – Guardian

FINAL LEADERBOARD
British and Irish unless stated, par 72

268 Danny Willett 68 65 68 67

271 Jon Rahm (Esp) 66 67 68 70

272 Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa) 68 67 69 68

273 Billy Horschel (USA) 72 65 71 65, Patrick Reed (USA) 70 70 67 66

275 Richie Ramsay 71 68 67 69, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 69 70 67 69

276 Justin Rose 67 68 69 72

277 Andrew Johnston 69 70 69 69, Rory McIlroy 76 69 65 67

278 Viktor Hovland (Nor) 69 69 70 70, Shane Lowry 72 71 69 66, Paul Casey 68 69 71 70

279 Francesco Molinari (Ita) 69 70 69 71, Kurt Kitayama (USA) 71 71 68 69, Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa) 70 74 67 68

280 Shubhankar Sharma (Ind) 71 67 66 76, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut) 74 67 69 70, Romain Langasque (Fra) 69 74 70 67, Henrik Stenson (Swe) 66 69 74 71

281 Andrew Putnam (USA) 71 67 70 73, Paul Waring 70 71 68 72, Ashley Chesters 70 73 68 70

282 Joakim Lagergren (Swe) 70 71 71 70, Jordan Smith 69 71 70 72

283 Tapio Pulkkanen (Fin) 71 73 69 70, Aaron Rai 71 70 72 70

284 Alex Noren (Swe) 69 72 69 74, Robert Macintyre 69 72 70 73, Matthias Schwab (Aut) 70 75 70 69

285 Julian Suri (USA) 71 74 69 71, Ross Fisher 70 73 66 76, Sam Horsfield 71 71 70 73, Joost Luiten (Ned) 68 72 73 72, Miguel Angel Jimenez (Esp) 69 74 74 68, Richard Sterne (Rsa) 71 71 70 73

286 Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) 70 70 75 71, Mikko Korhonen (Fin) 71 69 71 75, Benjamin Hebert (Fra) 72 72 69 73, Thomas Pieters (Bel) 73 71 70 72

287 Soren Kjeldsen (Den) 73 71 73 70, Matt Wallace 65 76 72 74, Ashun Wu (Chn) 72 73 68 74, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Esp) 70 73 70 74, Renato Paratore (Ita) 71 71 71 74

288 Marcus Kinhult (Swe) 70 72 75 71, Andrea Pavan (Ita) 68 76 75 69, Russell Knox 69 71 76 72, Matthew Fitzpatrick 73 71 74 70, Pádraig Harrington 73 72 75 68

289 Haotong Li (Chn) 71 72 70 76, Tony Finau (USA) 70 68 77 74, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 73 72 71 73, Chris Wood 70 75 71 73, Alexander Bjork (Swe) 76 69 76 68, Yusaku Miyazato (Jpn) 71 72 71 75

290 Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel) 73 66 78 73, Martin Kaymer (Ger) 70 74 73 73, Scott Jamieson 68 77 75 70

291 Tommy Fleetwood 70 75 70 76, Branden Grace (Rsa) 72 72 68 79, Ian Poulter 73 70 77 71, Julien Guerrier (Fra) 69 76 77 69

292 Steven Brown 69 75 74 74, Sebastian Soderberg (Swe) 68 77 76 71, Ernie Els (Rsa) 68 76 76 72, Edoardo Molinari (Ita) 71 74 75 72, Alvaro Quiros (Esp) 69 75 76 72

294 Robert Coles 71 74 76 73, Trevor Immelman (Rsa) 71 74 73 76

296 George Coetzee (Rsa) 68 72 79 77

297 David Law 75 69 78 75, Gavin Green (Mal) 72 73 72 80

302 Andy Sullivan 71 74 76 81

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