Willett shrugs off injury as Leishman seals win

Danny Willett.
Danny Willett.
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SHEFFIELD’S Danny Willett tied fourth in defence of his Nedbank Golf Challenge title in South Africa, albeit 11 shots back of Australian winner Marc Leishman.

Willett closed with a flawless four-under-par 68, which included birdies at holes two, nine, 16 and 18 and no bogeys.

An outward nine of 40 in his second round, when problems with his back required on-course treatment from the Tour physiotherapist, effectively put paid to his attempt to win the title in Sun City for a second successive year.

But weekend rounds of 70 68, tacked on to an opening pair of 67 75, earned a top-5 finish for the Yorkshireman who finished second to world No 3 Rory McIlroy in the 2015 Race to Dubai standings.

His fellow Sheffielder Matt Fitzpatrick birdied holes one and two on the final day – the latter for the third time in four rounds – and looked to be set for yet another top-10 finish.

But he collected three bogeys in his closing six holes, as well as a birdie at the 14th, to sign for a level-par 72.

His 286 aggregate (69 77 68 72) left him in a tie for 16th.

Leishman (68 68 66 67) finished 19 under par for the week and six shots clear of second-placed Henrik Stenson, of Sweden, to claim his first European Tour title and complete an Australian double following compatriot Nathan Holman’s win in the Australian PGA Championship earlier in the day.

England’s Chris Wood was a distant third on nine under with defending champion Willett, Victor Dubuisson, Robert Streb and Branden Grace joint fourth on eight under.

Leishman began the day with a one-shot lead and found himself three ahead when he birdied the seventh and playing partner Stenson bogeyed the same hole after failing to get up and down from a greenside bunker.

World No 7 Stenson bounced back with a birdie from 15 feet on the eighth and both players two-putted the par-5 ninth for birdie to give Leishman, who lost a play-off for the Open at St Andrews in July, a two-shot lead heading into the back nine.

Leishman and Stenson also two-putted the par-5 10th for birdie before Leishman extended his lead thanks to a superb approach to the 13th, which span back to within inches of the hole.

Stenson saved par from over the green to keep his hopes of a second title alive, but the 2008 champion could not repeat the feat after a wayward drive on the 15th, where another birdie from Leishman took the 32-year-old five clear.

Leishman, who defeated world No 1 Jordan Spieth in the singles in the Presidents Cup in October, moved further ahead with a birdie on the 16th and although Stenson chipped in on the next, the result – and destination of the first prize of £825,000 – was never in doubt.

Leishman pulled out of the Masters in April after his wife Audrey fell seriously ill with toxic shock syndrome, a rare but life-threatening bacterial infection during which she was put into an induced coma. She is now recovering but Leishman feared the worst and was prepared to give up golf to care for their two young children.

“I’m pretty happy to have this year over, to be honest,” the 32-year-old said. “Audrey got very sick and I lost an uncle who I was very close to. This tops off what was otherwise not a great year. Three weeks ago we moved into a new house, so this will help pay for that.

“It’s amazing. I’m so happy,” added Leishman, who could reach a career-best 26th in the world when the rankings are updated today.

“It’s not very often you can walk up 18 with a good cushion and enjoy it.

“I knew it was going to be a really tough day, I knew I had to play well. Henrik’s an awesome player and I knew he’d make me earn it, which he did. I’m really pleased that I could play as well as I did and have a little bit of a buffer there at the end.

“Golf’s a lot easier when you don’t have to make up lost ground, especially on this golf course where there’s trouble everywhere.

“I was really happy to not have too many bogeys (three all week). I definitely found out where the trouble was in the practice round,” he said.

“I’ll take it, looking at the bigger picture,” Stenson said after his closing 72.

“With the chances I’ve had this year, to be winless is a little disappointing but all in all it’s been a solid year and I’ve got to look at the good results, the amount of world ranking points and all the rest of it.

“Of course I’d like to be holding the trophy, and I had a nice chance here. Marc played really solidly and shot five under on a tricky day. All credit to him for the win, he’s a deserving champion.

“I’m ready to get some rest after a long season. I’ll have knee surgery in Orlando on Wednesday and hopefully the recovery will go well and I’ll be ready for Abu Dhabi (in January).”