Willett aiming to profit as stars opt of the World Cup

Danny Willett represents England at the World Cup of Golf at Royal Melbourne this week, thanks largely to the number of his compatriots above him in the rankings who declined to play.

Sheffield's Danny Willett representes England at the World Cup of Golf this week.
Sheffield's Danny Willett representes England at the World Cup of Golf this week.

Willett, 26, is the 10th highest Englishman on the rankings at No 114 in the world.

He teams up with the sixth best, Chris Wood, in Australia because those higher than him – Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood among them – opted against playing.

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Granted, they have had a hectic schedule, the majority of them having just played three to four weeks of the European Tour’s final series.

But their loss could well be Willett’s gain.

In a change of format designed at enticing the big players – though clearly that has not worked with the English contingent – the competition takes the shape of a 72-hole strokeplay event with $7m of the staggering $8m total prize fund going to the individual winner.

The remaining $1m is for the team event, decided by the combined scores from the two competitors from each country.

There is also a huge number of ranking points up for grabs, which could set up Willett nicely for next season as the Sheffield man bids to reach the top 50 and get into the field for April’s Masters.

England have a good history in the competition, even if they are significantly weakened against nations like Australia, the United States and Northern Ireland, who are taking it more seriously this time.

Adam Scott and Jason Day are the favourites for the host nation, while world No 10 Matt Kuchar leads the American challenge and Graeme McDowell flies the flag for Northern Ireland.

Bristol’s Wood, who has enjoyed his best year so far with a maiden European Tour win coming in Qatar, was refreshingly honest when giving his assessment of how the chance to represent England materialised.

“I don’t think the excuses are good enough, given the quality of the event, to be honest,” he said.

“It’s great for me and Danny, obviously. What an opportunity – and I do think we’ve got a great chance.

“But playing for England at Royal Melbourne with everything else on offer? I’d like to think if I’d been one of the higher-ranked players, I wouldn’t be turning down the chance to play for England.”

Willett, who continues on to South Africa next week for their Open, shows no signs of slowing down. He was inactive for large parts of the first half of the year as he nursed a lower back injury to full health but now appears to be making up for lost time as he bids to climb the rankings.