Willett is primed to turn good year into great one

Danny Willett at the PGA Championship at ValhallaDanny Willett at the PGA Championship at Valhalla
Danny Willett at the PGA Championship at Valhalla
Danny Willett has hailed 2014 his best season yet as he looks to cap his progress with another eye-catching performance in Dubai.

With the title of European No 1 already wrapped up by the peerless Rory McIlroy, the DP World Tour Championship has become more about who can snaffle the best prizes remaining.

And Sheffield’s Willett has put himself in a strong position to be one of those to benefit most.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

His year of greater consistency and only a smattering of missed cuts has seen him rise to 85th in the world rankings and 26th on the Race to Dubai standings.

The 27-year-old’s best year-end finish was 23rd in both 2012 – the year of his only win to date – and two years earlier.

Even if he fails to match or better that this week, in a tournament that carries a prize pot of $8m, he still maintains this year has seen him take his biggest step. Last week’s showing at the Turkish Airlines Open was a case in point.

He finished fourth in a stellar field, earning at 220,279 euros (£176,012) comfortably his largest cheque of the season.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It also saw him climb 19 places on the world rankings, his biggest move of the year.

“The only thing missing has been a win,” admitted Willett, who has earned £3.6m in six years on tour.

“I‘ve had seven top-10 finishes, five of those in the top five and I played well in two of the three majors.

“It’s been a very strong year.

“My average finish, if you take out the withdrawals, is about 25th. Henrik Stenson’s was 19th last year when he won the order of merit. So I’m not far away.

“On reflection it’s probably been my best year.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

If anything has held Willett back it is the three withdrawals brought about when the back problems he has managed for 18 months proved too restrictive.

But otherwise, it has been a year of progression aided by greater exposure.

His move to Chubby Chandler’s International Sports Management has opened more doors for him worldwide and he has raised his own profile by featuring frequently on leaderboards, like at the US Open in June and last week in Turkey.

At one point in Sunday’s final round, Willett shared the lead before three bogeys in four holes around the turn ended his charge.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Playing partner Brooks Koepka claimed a life-changing win, one that further emphasised to Willett that he is on the right path to belatedly adding to that solitary victory in Germany two years ago.

“All I can keep doing is putting myself in those positions because you can only get that Sunday feeling when you’re in that position,” he said.

“You cannot replicate it any other time.

“I played some really good golf, just had a couple of bad shots around the turn and I didn’t quite get the lies around the green.

“Brooks played some lovely golf and had two fantastic up and downs.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Sometimes there’s nothing you can do if a guy plays like Brooks did.

“What I took from last week was that you cannot force things in those situations. You just have to trust in your own game.

“The more and more I’m in those positions the more I realise that, because when you force things that’s when mistakes creep in.

“I wouldn’t really change anything about how I played on Sunday. If anything I made a lot of right decisions.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Willett makes his fifth appearance in the season-ending Tour Championship, a reward for finishing in the top-60 in all but one year on the continent’s elite circuit.

It is a “small target” to set at the start of each year as he puts it, but one that points to consistency.

Taking the step into the world’s top 50 is his next challenge, and a good week here can go a long way to expediating that.

If Willett maintains his place in the top 30 of the Race to Dubai standings then it will secure a third consecutive appearance at the Open next summer.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

If he gets into the top 20, a place in the field at the World Golf Championship event at Doral in Florida next March is the prize, while five places higher yields the further lucrative reward of an end-of-season bonus split between the top 15 finishers.

Simon Dyson joins Willett in the desert this week.

The 36-year-old from Malton is 40th on the order of merit, having finished as high as eighth in 2009, and 10th two years later.

His consistent year, highlighted by a second-place finish at the Dutch Open, has tailed off in recent times, but a good week in Dubai could see him force his way into the top 30 on the final rankings and back to the Open Championship and into a major field for the first time since 2012.