Hazeltine Ryder Cup debut beckons as Danny Willett continues to rise

ON THE RISE: Danny Willett hits to the fourth green during the Cadillac Championship golf tournament in Doral. Picture: AP/Wilfredo Lee.ON THE RISE: Danny Willett hits to the fourth green during the Cadillac Championship golf tournament in Doral. Picture: AP/Wilfredo Lee.
ON THE RISE: Danny Willett hits to the fourth green during the Cadillac Championship golf tournament in Doral. Picture: AP/Wilfredo Lee.
Danny Willett has climbed to a career-high of 11th in golf's world rankings and is almost certain now to make his Ryder Cup debut at Hazeltine later this year after providing more compelling evidence of his ability to mix it with the game's very best.

The 28-year-old from Sheffield finished in a tie for third at the WGC Cadillac Championship in Miami, having spent much of the weekend looking like he belonged on a leaderboard that included Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson – major winners all.

Only a 10ft putt for birdie that lipped out on the 71st hole denied him the chance to draw level with Scott at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday night, before a tee shot into the water on 18 eventually ended a challenge he had sustained all week.

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Still, a third-place finish – two shots behind Scott – is not to be sniffed at, especially for a man who before his victory at the Nedbank Challenge in Sun City in December 2014, had been struggling to hold down a regular place in the world’s top 10o.

Fifteen months, two further European Tour wins, a top-six at the Open and three top-three finishes in World Golf Championship events later, he finds himself in 11th.

There are only three Europeans above him; McIlroy in second, Henrik Stenson in seventh and Justin Rose in eighth.

On top of that, his stunning form has put him in a strong position to qualify for Darren Clarke’s European team for the Ryder Cup in September.

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Willett is second on the European points list, from which the first four players qualify – and in another encouraging aside for White Rose golf, his fellow Yorkshireman Matt Fitzpatrick is fourth and would make the team if the points race stopped now.

And even if he fails to qualify via that route, Willett is also third on the world points list, from which the next five players earn selection.

“It’s trending in the right direction and everything is going nicely,” was Willett’s assessment of the acceleration in his fortunes on Sunday night.

“I don’t think we can get too disheartened with the results.

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“It’s nice to know that you pitch up and there’s the top-50 players in the world here.

“The last three or four (WGC events) that we’ve played, we’ve finished top five, so it’s good.”

And even if a first WGC title eluded him this time, merely being in the shake up on the back nine – when his ball-striking and short game stood up to the extra scrutiny – will have served him well.

“I’ve always said over the last couple of years, winning is about getting in a position on Sunday afternoons to give yourself a chance and sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don’t,” said Willett.

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“It was another good week. Being up there in contention on the back nine at a World Golf Championship is a step in the right direction.

“Today we hit it okay, a bit scrappy in places but could have been a different story but for 17, and obviously it was a pretty tricky drive for me hitting a cut down the last.

“All in all, if someone said at the beginning of the week, see where 10-under par gets you, I’d have taken it. It’s a really tricky golf course, and the wind (on the final day) obviously played its part more than any other day.

“You can look back and you’re probably going to lose by one or two, but over the course of the week, I’ve got a lot out of the game, so I can’t be too unhappy.”

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Cadillac champion Scott has set his sights on a second Masters title after producing an extraordinary fightback to win his second tournament in succession.

Scott carded a closing 69 which featured two double bogeys in the space of three holes, a shank and seven birdies to finish 12 under par at Doral, one shot ahead of double Masters champion Bubba Watson.

“I can’t believe I have won back- to-back weeks out here and to win a WGC is huge,” said Scott, who was also second in the Northern Trust Open a fortnight ago.

“Somehow I need to bottle this up and keep it another four or five weeks through the Masters and that would be amazing to get myself into contention there and have a chance.”

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Scott won the Masters in 2013 using a long putter and reached the top of the world rankings in May 2014, but has successfully reverted to a conventional club in order to comply with the ban on anchored strokes which came into effect on January 1.

“I have been working hard on my putting and couldn’t ask for a better way to test myself, a six-footer to win a World Golf Championship event,” he added.

“I made a couple of horrible errors on the front nine but you can’t give up hope.”