Having knocked loudly on the door to the winners’ enclosure in recent weeks, Danny Willett finally burst through in Sun City yesterday to make the perfect start to the 2015 season.
The 27-year-old from Sheffield – who amassed seven top-10 finishes in a year when he was the model of consistency – finally breasted the tape with victory at the lucrative Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa.
Willett pocketed 864,976 euros (£681,873) for claiming his second European Tour title and comfortably the biggest pay day of his career.
His victory by four shots over compatriot Ross Fisher after a final-round 66 is set to see him climb towards the top 50 in the world rankings.
And it was a triumph that owed much to an aggressive approach that served him well in Turkey and Dubai recently, two other star-studded tournaments in which he was firmly in the hunt.
“My caddie John (Smart, also from Sheffield) and I spoke at the start of the week and came up with a good game plan, to be aggressive off the tee on this golf course,” he said.
“It’s visually very intimidating, but I’ve been driving the ball really well and we wanted to give ourselves a lot more wedges and nine irons into holes, whereas some guys are just laying back.
“We put a new Callaway driver in the bag a few weeks ago and it’s been tremendous.
“It was just one of those weeks where the swing felt good and it came off. South Africa is a place that’s suited me in the past and I’ve played well golf down here.
“I love the place, love the people – everything about it is great. It’s been a truly fun test of golf.”
Willett – whose first victory came two and a half years ago at the BMW International Open in Cologne -– holed six birdies yesterday to finish 18 under for the tournament and seal victory over Fisher and Luke Donald.
It was a frustrating final round for former world No 1 Donald, who came into the final day leading by a shot on 13-under, but could only close with a 73.
He ended up finishing two shots behind Fisher, who registered seven birdies and three bogeys in a final-round 68.
Marcel Siem finished three shots further back on nine-under after shooting a 68, while Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat was fifth on seven-under. Despite not finishing on top Fisher was pleased with his performance and felt there was little else that he or Donald could have done to prevent Willett’s win.
“I’m delighted,” he said.
“I felt like I played great all week, and I finally started to hole a few putts today which was nice, but unfortunately for me and Luke, Danny was too good.
“I’ve been playing some really good golf for a long time and it’s nice seeing the results starting to come good.
“I don’t think Luke or I should be too disappointed. We didn’t lose it; Danny went out and won the tournament.”
Donald was obviously disappointed with his final round, but like Fisher was keen to praise the winner.
“There are a lot of positives from the week,” he said. “It’s nice to put myself back in position. I could have played a bit better today, but I still would have had to shoot five under just to tie with Danny.
“He played really focused golf today and hats off, he’s a deserved winner.
“Danny’s putter was red hot – he didn’t seem to miss and did everything really well.
“He drove it amazingly well on this very tough, tight golf course.”
Willett follows Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood in winning what is an exclusive event and one he earned his place at via his finish inside the top 30 on the 2014 Race to Dubai standings.
Willett said: “They are some good names to be next to.
“It’s always nice walking up the ninth, obviously with the name engraved on the pathway up the left, you kind of realise how many great players have been here and walked over the same bridge as you have and had a great week.
“Hopefully I can come back here year after year and do it again.”