Danny Willett was left to reflect on what might have been after the 27-year-old’s attempt to become the first Yorkshireman to win the Open came up short at St Andrews.
The world No 39 from Sheffield, who was in contention for the Claret Jug ever since opening with a round of 66 on Thursday, came up four shots shy of a three-man play-off last night.
In a rollercoaster final round at the ‘Home of Golf’ yesterday, one symptomatic of a dramatic week, Willett first dropped out of contention with a slow start to the front nine before storming back into the equation with a birdie blitz after the turn.
Always with that little too much to do, a dropped shot on the 17th – the third successive round in which he bogeyed the famous ‘Road Hole’ – saw him finish in a still creditable tie for sixth.
“It’s a bit of a shame to finish how we did on 17, but all in all it’s been a pretty good week,” said Willett, who had carded four consecutive birdies from the 11th to revive his challenge.
“It was good, but we left ourselves lots to do.
“I hit it nice, but couldn’t really get anything going.
“The back nine started really, really well, I hit a lot of good golf shots.
“And it was good to play with (eventual winner) Zach (Johnson) and look back and see what he did and didn’t do.”
Willett held the outright lead midway through Sunday’s third round before three bogeys in five holes saw him fall back into the pack and ultimately out of contention.
“We had a bit of a stale spell with the putter Sunday and Monday,” admitted the Rotherham Golf Club member.
“Those four shots back probably wouldn’t have been too hard to make up, so there’s plenty of positives to take.”
One of those positives is Willett finished his home major as the joint-highest European finisher alongside fellow Englishman Justin Rose and Spain’s Sergio Garcia.
He will also wake up this morning to the most advanced position he has occupied in the world rankings, likely to be nudging the top 30. And his standing among home golfers has grown significantly.
“It’s been a bit mental on Twitter, the support has been great,” said Willett, who was the clubhouse leader on Friday before the weather delays of Saturday.
“That walk up 18 was pretty special.”
Jordan Niebrugge made it a United States double after Zach Johnson won the championship and he walked away with the Silver Medal for being top amateur.
The 21-year-old shot a final-round 70 at St Andrews to post 11 under and overtake Ireland’s Paul Dunne, who had begun the final round with a three-stroke lead over his rival.
Five amateurs made the cut and with three finishing in the top 12, it was the most competitive challenge for the Silver Medal for some time.
Niebrugge, the 2013 US Amateur Public Links champion, rated it as his biggest achievement so far.
“I would rank it for sure the top accomplishment I’ve had so far. The Silver Medal in a major championship, especially at St Andrews, is definitely a dream come true,” he said.
“I played in the Masters last year and the John Deere Classic (on the PGA Tour) this last summer and both of those experiences definitely made this a little easier.
“There is nothing like coming down the last hole, though. It’s just an awesome amphitheatre – I was a little nervous.”
Willett proves he can compete at the top level: Page 16.