Danny Back on Top of the World After Stunning Win at Wentworth
WHEN he won The Masters in 2016 Danny Willett seemed to have the world at his feet. But then it all went wrong. He suffered a series of injuries, lost his form, parted company with his coach and caddie and saw his world ranking tumble to 462.
He won the DP World Tour Championship at the end of last season and has played some fine golf this year, and he capped it all with an emotional three-shot victory at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, seeing off the challenge of Jon Rahm, one of the best players on the planet. He did so in some style, with a 20-under-par total of 268. It was his seventh European Tour success and surely none have tasted sweeter than this one.
"It has been a fairytale to win on home soil for me,” he said. "The course was in fantastic condition and the crowds were just amazing.”
The tournament is the first to count in the standings for the 2020 Ryder Cup team and the victory means that Willett takes an early lead. On top of that, he now finds himself just outside the top 30 in the world rankings, which means he will play in all four majors as a matter of right, as well as the WGC events. Willett is back where he belongs.
And he did it in style.
Willett and Rahm had been locked together since the end of round two and went blow for blow over the weekend in a thrilling battle in front of huge crowds at the European Tour's flagship event.
The pair began day in a tie for the lead but Willett jumped out into a two shot lead with two early birdies and while Rahm kept the pressure on Willett signed for a closing 67 to get to 20 under and claim a three shot win. South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout was third on 16 under after a 68, a shot clear of American duo Billy Horschel and Patrick Reed.
After missing the cut at this event last season, Willett was 462nd in the world rankings. A sensational maiden Rolex Series victory six months later at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai represented a stunning return to the top of the game but this performance surely tops that.
"It doesn't get much better does it?" he said. "An emotional week. "It was a good battle out there today with myself more than anyone else and it was nice to come through the other side. I've had an undying want to get back there. I was willing to change whatever had to be changed and 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."
Willett got off to a brilliant start, holing a 25 footer on the second and then putting his approach to 12 feet at the third to lead by two.
Rahm birdied the par-five fourth to cut the advantage but Willett put his second to four feet over the water at the eighth and led by two at the turn.
A stunning tee shot on the tenth from the leader piled the pressure on Rahm but the Spaniard holed from 18 feet and the lead stayed at two as Willett followed him in. Willett was in huge trouble as he sent his tee shot on the 11th a long way right and then found heather followed by a bunker, and he had to hole a 40 footer for a remarkable bogey to stay ahead. It was probably the turning point.
Rahm played a poor chip with his third shot on the par five next and walked off with a bogey but the lead was back to one on the 13th as he put an approach to six feet. The two shot advantage was re-established on the 14th, however, as Rahm found sand off the tee and failed to get up and down.
Both players got up and down from the front of the green on the 17th for birdies and Willett claimed a two putt birdie on the last as Rahm saved par after putting his second in the water.
Rahm was bitterly disappointed. "I'm not going to lie, it hurts, it stings," said Rahm. "I played good all week and up until the 13th hole I was incapable of hitting an iron close to the pin and made a couple of stupid mistakes. I'm just going to have to figure out why it happened and that's it."
Bezuidenhout made five birdies and a single bogey in a 68, while a chip-in eagle on the fourth was the highlight of a second 65 of the week for Horschel, who was making his Wentworth debut having grown up watching this event. Reed carded a bogey free 66 to sit alongside his countryman, two shots clear of Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello and Scot Richie Ramsay.
Home hero Justin Rose was then at 12 under, one clear of world number two Rory McIlroy and England's Andrew Johnston.
McIlroy had 19 birdies and two eagles during the week. Unfortunately, he took 42 shots to cover the back nine on day one on his way to a miserable 76. He followed it with rounds of 69, 65 and 67 and ended the week on 11 under par in a tie for ninth place. He now heads to Scotland for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, still believing that he can catch Shane Lowry in the Race to Dubai. Lowry and Paul Casey finished one shot behind McIlroy.
Sebastian Munoz won his first PGA Tour title when he defeated Sungjae Im in a playoff at the Sanderson Farms Championship. The Colombian becomes the second consecutive winner from Latin America to start the new season. Joaquin Niemann won the season-opening A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.
Munoz made his first start as a PGA Tour member at the Sanderson Farms three years ago. Now it is the site of his first victory. With the win, Munoz took over the top spot in the FedExCup standings. He shot 70-67-63-70 to finish at 18-under 270 at the Country Club of Jackson.
“I never thought I was going to be a PGA Tour player,” Munoz said. “It wasn’t even an option.” At the Greenbrier two years ago Munoz led after 54 holes but struggled in the final round and Xander Schauffele went past him to win.
Munoz quizzed Niemann, who made six back-nine birdies last Sunday, about the final round as they flew together to Mississippi. The advice paid off quickly. Munoz was back in the lead after a third-round 63 at the Country Club of Jackson, and this time he made no mistake.
“Him winning last week was the last piece of the puzzle that I needed to know that we’re good enough to compete, that we’re PGA TOUR members and we play to win,” Munoz said.
Munoz scrambled to stay in the lead all day until a bogey at the drivable 15th. It was his first in 39 holes. He still trailed by one when he came to the final hole. He struck a 322-yard tee shot into the fairway, then hit his 160-yard approach to 15 feet and made the putt to join Im. He missed both the fairway and the green on the first extra hole, but chipped to four feet and made par. He won after Im failed to get up-and-down from behind the green.
Munoz only made three bogeys all week despite hitting just 52% of the fairways. None of his recovery shots was bigger than his approach on the 482-yard sixth, one of the Country Club of Jackson’s most difficult holes. His tee shot struck a tree, leaving him 260 yards to the green on the par-4. The thick canopy of the oaks left him with few options. Pitching out to the right, and leaving himself a third shot around 100 yards seemed like the prudent play.
Munoz was inspired to take the riskier route after seeing Golf Channel broadcaster Jim “Bones” Mackay, who was following the group. Mackay was the longtime caddie for Phil Mickelson. Munoz decided to emulate Mackay’s old boss. “Fortune favours the bold,” Munoz said. “I believed in myself and pulled the shot off.”
Munoz opened the face of his fairway wood, and hit a shot that was headed down the parallel fifth fairway before slicing some 50 yards. It ended up in the rough left of the green. He pitched to 12 feet and made the putt. Munoz only hit 29 fairways all week but he was 12th in greens hit (57 of 72). His iron play was so good that he didn’t have to make a putt longer than 15 feet for any of his 21 birdies.
It was Munoz’s second consecutive top-10 to start the season. He finished in a tie for seventh place at the Greenbrier last week.
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