Danny Willett upset defending champion Spieth to become only second English golfer to win the Masters in 80 years.
Congratulations to Daniel John Willett, 28 years old from Rotherham. No, he’s not the latest lottery winner (although he is considerably richer for his efforts), ‘Danny’ is England’s latest big sporting success story.
Less than four years since his maiden professional title, Willett continued his spectacular rise from European Tour nearly man to major winner on Sunday with a dramatic come-from-behind victory at Augusta National in Georgia. The former number one ranked amateur golfer of 2008, over-turned a three shot deficit going into the final round to win by three and secure a place in the top 10 of the professional golfing elite.
During a bogey-free five-under-par round, on some of the toughest holes in golf, Willett held his nerve with a near-faultless display, whilst others around him crumbled. A model of consistency on the biggest stage of his career, the Yorkshireman looked in complete control of his game and composure as he steadily worked his way through the field to the top of the leaderboard. Inevitably though there would be moments of drama for Danny too, as the realisation of Spieth’s seven on the par-three 12th opened the door for his nearest challengers.
First, forced to lay-up at the par-five 15th, Willett managed to clear the water but rolled off the back of the green with his third shot. Next he showed incredible ‘touch’ when chipping down the slope from the back of the 17th green. Finally, he demonstrated great course-awareness with his approach from the pine-needles on 18, pitching off the slope to the right of the green – ultimately setting a formidable target that forced Spieth, Dustin Johnson and playing partner Lee Westwood into crucial mistakes.
But it was that chip from the back of the 17th that arguably proved to be the defining moment of his improbable win. I feared for him standing over that shot, just as I had four years earlier watching from the stands in Cologne as he chipped from the back of the 18th on the fourth sudden-death play-off hole at the 2012 BMW International Open.
On the brink of significant personal milestones on both occasions, with the odds against him and in unknown territory – I needn’t have worried. The Sheffield man once again demonstrated ‘steely’ resolve, on an all too literal slippery slope – his technique and temperament stood up to the test.
Four years ago, even for a seemingly confident young man, the doubts must have been there with a record of 19 top-10 finishes without a win. The self-belief he gained since getting it done that day and from his three subsequent tournament wins, can only have contributed to his confidence snow-balling to the levels a major champion needs.
From outside the top 200 in 2012 and outside the top 100 two years ago, Danny’s consistent displays took him into the top 50 twelve months ago and to the verge of a European order of merit (Race to Dubai) win in 2015. Undeterred by the disappointment of controversially missing out to Rory McIlroy (who’d not played the minimum 13 tournaments to be automatically eligible to play in the season-ender) and having fallen out of the lead at the 2015 Open Championship, Willett continued to climb the rankings.
Inside the top 20 in the world at the start of the year, his Masters win has elevated him into the top 10 alongside the likes of superstars McIlroy, Spieth and world number one, Jason Day. And with five Englishman (seven Europeans) in the top 10 at Augusta, the future is looking very bright for Team Europe’s Ryder Cup chances later in 2016 – and for further domestic winners of major championships.
Following his latest triumph, Danny Willett is looking decidedly more assured of making his debut at Hazeltine in September than he was of competing at this year’s Masters – only the early appearance of his second child leaving him free to take his place at golf’s top table for just the second time. I guess it was just meant to be.
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the 2016 Masters champion, Danny Willett. He may have been the 86th Englishman to win on the European Tour, but he’s now only the second to win The Masters after Nick Faldo.