Former champion Danny Willett is relishing his next appearance in the Masters after emphatically proving he has rediscovered a game good enough to cope with the demands of Augusta National.
Willett was ranked ninth in the world after winning his maiden major title in April, 2016, but had slumped outside the world’s top 450 earlier this season after struggling with injuries and a subsequent loss of form.
However, the 31-year-old from Sheffield is back inside the world’s top 100 following his emotional victory in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, where he carded a final round of 68 to finish two shots ahead of fellow Englishman Matt Wallace and current Masters champion Patrick Reed.
Willett’s decline had already started by the time he became the first defending champion to miss the cut in the Masters since 2004, his second round of 78 in 2017 starting with a demoralising quadruple-bogey eight on the first.
Earlier this year, he also made an early exit after rounds of 75 and 76, but will make the trip to Georgia in April in confident mood after a well-earned rest with his family.
“It’s going to be nice to get back home and lock the door, do nothing and look forward at where we want to play and what we want to play in,” said Willett.
“And if we keep doing the work that we’ve been doing at home and keep putting the hours in, hopefully we can come back in January and pick up where we left off from.
“We’re fortunate that we’re in all the majors for the next few years, so you can plan around them. I’m going to look forward to getting back to Augusta in April actually with a golf game that can get around the golf course.”
By winning the green jacket in 2016, Willett earned a lifetime exemption for the Masters and five-year exemption for the other three majors, but his win in Dubai also saw him finish 20th in the Race to Dubai by less than 4,000 points from Ryder Cup team-mate Rafa Cabrera Bello.
“It’s nice to be back to double figures when you’ve been in the middle of the triple figures for a while,” said the world No 90.
“We were kind of in no-man’s land; if we finish top 40 on the Order of Merit it doesn’t matter as we’re already in the majors. But top 20 was a nice goal and that needed a couple of special weeks and it gets us into the WGC-Mexico event next year.
“All these things which seemed so easy when I was top 10, top 15 in the world, where you are setting your schedule around the four majors, the four WGCs, we’ve not had that for a couple of years.
“We’ve not had these events where there are only 70, 75 guys and you’re playing against the world’s best. To get back in Mexico is a really good achievement and, hopefully, then I can press on and get in more and more events and start to piece together a schedule again that is world class.”
Leading world rankings: 1 Justin Rose (Eng) 10.03pts ave, 2 Brooks Koepka (USA) 10.03, 3 Dustin Johnson (USA) 9.19, 4 Justin Thomas (USA) 8.77, 5 Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 7.31, 6 Francesco Molinari (Ita) 6.47, 7 Rory McIlroy (NIrl) 6.44, 8 Jon Rahm (Spa) 6.40, 9 Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 5.97, 10 Rickie Fowler (USA) 5.94, 11 Jason Day (Aus) 5.88, 12 Xander Schauffele (USA) 5.77, 13 Tiger Woods (USA) 5.57, 14 Tony Finau (USA) 5.39, 15 Patrick Reed (USA) 5.32, 16 Jordan Spieth (USA) 5.18, 17 Bubba Watson (USA) 4.99, 18 Webb Simpson (USA) 4.72, 19 Patrick Cantlay (USA) 4.65, 20 Alex Noren (Swe) 4.63. Others include: 22 Paul Casey (Eng) 4.44, 23 Sergio Garcia (Spa) 4.02, 27 Phil Mickelson (USA) 3.65, 28 Henrik Stenson (Swe) 3.57, 29 Matt Kuchar (USA) 3.56, 38 Eddie Pepperell (Eng) 3.14, 39 Ian Poulter (Eng) 3.09, 43 Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng) 2.70, 44 Matt Wallace (Eng) 2.69.
We’re fortunate that we’re in all the majors for the next few years, so you can plan around them. I’m going to look forward to getting back to Augusta in April actually with a golf game that can get around the golf course.Danny Willett
Charles Howell III ended an 11-year run without a US PGA Tour win as he claimed victory at the second play-off hole of the RSM Classic at Sea Island.
He holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th to claim his first title for 4,291 days and finally see off a challenge from Patrick Rodgers.
After two rounds, Rodgers was 12 off the lead but he set a new final 36-hole PGA Tour record with a 123 aggregate after following up Saturday’s 61 with a 62 – which included an 85ft birdie at the 12th.
That catapulted him to 19 under, having carded 18 birdies and no dropped shots in his final 37 holes of regulation play.
Howell, who began with a one-shot lead, posted a round of 67 after three birdies in his final four holes.
He had a chance to win it at the 72nd, and also at the first play-off hole, but having returned to the 18th tee again, his drive into the fairway was crucial as Rodgers just found the rough.