DCSIMG

Ambitious Willett eyes major lift to cap fine year

Danny Willett

Danny Willett

  • by Nick Westby
 

As years go, a maiden European Tour victory and a return to the world’s top 100 could be categorised as a triumph for Danny Willett.

Yet the major absence from his list of achievements in 2012 has left the 25-year-old with a degree of unfulfilment.

That glaring omission is his absence from major championships, with the Sheffield golfer having failed to get into any of the fields for the game’s big four.

It is an anomaly that contrasts sharply with last year, when he finished well down the money list after a difficult year, but still made his debut in the Open Championship.

This year the consistency has returned, and Willett will be back at the Open next July by virtue of his position inside the top 30 on the money list.

And as he tees off among the great and the good in Dubai today at the lucrative end-of-season Tour Championship, the chance to finish his fourth year on the top circuit by setting himself up nicely for next season is at the top of his agenda. Willett, who begins the final week of the year in 22nd place, covets a spot in the top 15, which would get him into the US Open and the WGC events.

“If I was to achieve that it would make a massive difference to the year,” said Willett, who earned his first win at the BMW International Open in Germany in June.

“It’s nice to know I’m back at the Open next year.

“It’s good to be able to get that hotel booked early and to know that you’re definitely going because it makes it quite a funny season to look back on.

“It’s been a good year in the normal events, but I didn’t play in any of the majors.

“And I want to get back there. I’m 96th (in the world) at the moment, if I can get into the top 64 by the world match play (February) and top 50 by the Masters (April) that would be great.

“So there’s still plenty for me to play for this week. I’m a couple of hundred grand behind 15th so it’s attainable.”

The exact figure is 241,470 euros (£194,295) which means Willett needs a top-five finish to have any chance of jumping above seven players into 15th.

Even if that proves beyond him, this season should still be regarded as the best yet by Willett.

“The consistency has been back to where I know it should be,” said Willett, after a fallow 2011 meant he had to sit out last year’s end-of-season finale for the first time.

“I’ve drained a lot of putts and have had a lot of nice finishes.

“Obviously I had the win, but also a second and a third and a few other top 10s.

“It’s been a nice, consistent year. It would have been good to be higher up the world rankings but I’ll keep nibbling away at that next year.”

His win in Cologne, coming at the end of a nerve-jangling four play-off holes against Marcus Fraser, did not prompt the opening of the floodgates many had expected.

Willett acknowledges that it was a weight off his mind but he is conscious not to place too much emphasis on that breakthrough victory.

The real benefit of that win will only be seen in years to come if he becomes a serial winner. If all he does is reflect on that and stops moving forward, then he will not win again.

“It has given me a little more belief, as it should have done I guess,” he said.

“People always say you’ll do this, you’ll do that but until you’ve actually done it...

“I know my game is good enough to compete against most people, so it was nice to finally get it done.

“Winning was great but you don’t want to put too much emphasis on it.

“Hopefully, there will be more to come and, if so, then that first one will always be looked upon as important.”

The sting has been taken out of the Tour Championship this year with Rory McIlroy having already tied up the money list honours on both sides of the Atlantic.

There are, though, sub-plots aplenty with Lee Westwood – fresh from his split from Bingley caddie Billy Foster – and Luke Donald always certain to make headlines, regardless of how well they play.

Donald yesterday called for the European Tour to copy their US counterparts by finishing the season with a FedEx Cup style play-off system, where even more money would be up for grabs.

There are also three Yorkshire golfers in Dubai vying for the top prize of 1,041,239 euros (£837,406). Malton’s Simon Dyson continues his ever-present streak at the cash-laden denoument while Hull’s Richard Finch debuts after sneaking into the field in 60th and last place.

Willett is the highest-ranked of the three men from the White Rose and is confident of a better showing than on his previous two visits to the Earth course at Jumeirah Estates, when he failed to finish in the top 50.

“The game is there or thereabouts. I’ve had a few good results,” said Willett, who goes into the event having made the cut in his last eight tournaments, with three top-six finishes in that sequence.

“Theoretically it should be a course that suits me but on both occasions I’ve not done very well.

“The second time I was injured and both times it was the end of long, hard seasons.

“So it’s nice that I feel fresh going in there this time.”

 

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