Danny Willett celebrates with young son on 18th green after out-gunning Jon Rahm in final-round duel as he wins BMW PGA Championship
- Sheffield’s Danny Willett will now be just outside top 30 of world rankings
- Last year he was 462nd after injuries and a run of dreadful run of form
- But Willett has bounced back superbly and held his nerve on home soil
- He played some great recovery shots and beat Jon Rahm by three shots
Forget the vasectomy that made walking painful the last time Danny Willett played in the BMW PGA Championship. His pride was hurting far more. The fans had come to watch a recent Masters winner and there he was, languishing in 462nd place in the world and feeling, well, embarrassed would not be too strong a word.
‘They’d paid good money to watch good golf and I didn’t play any,’ he recalled.
Sixteen months on, at the end of perhaps the best edition of Europe’s flagship event in recent memory, he’s played plenty of good golf, all right.
Danny Willett celebrated his victory with his son who ran onto the 18th green
The Sheffield man will now be ranked just outside of the world’s top 30 following the win
Willett also shared a kiss with his wife Nicole as the family basked in his glory
How the same fans roared him home to a momentous triumph following his clinical dismantling of a competitor as fearsome as Jon Rahm.
Just as he did when he won at Augusta in 2016, Willett closed with a round of 67 for a three-stroke success over the Spaniard. This was his seventh title but the first achieved in the UK and it was clear what it meant to him.
‘I don’t think the fans were prepared to let me lose and I’m so thankful for their support,’ said the 31-year-old Yorkshireman. ‘It was a bit of a minefield out there but I came through and it doesn’t get much better than winning this title.’
After 10 impeccable holes played in four under par for a two-shot advantage, the minefield was basically the par four 11th that he played so badly it was as if it was booby trapped.
A poor drive left him hopelessly out of position on the wrong fairway and from there he found the heather, where he could only move the ball five yards into a bunker.
Rahm was in the middle of the fairway, looking like he would at least draw level and perhaps even pull a shot ahead. Imagine the scrambling of the senses Willett was experiencing?
The 31-year-old has already achieved so much and now has a seventh tour title
‘It was probably a battle with myself out there, as much as with Jon,’ he said. Just to complete the picture, a man who has known more than his fair share of injuries was feeling a stabbing sensation in his wrist from taking on the heather.
Willett took several deep breaths and composed himself. He played a fine bunker shot to 50ft and then had one of those moments that decide great events. He holed the putt for the best bogey he will ever make.
Rahm, who had drawn within one shot, had his chances thereafter, as Willett popped a couple of paracetamol to ease the pain from his wrist. But the Spaniard bogeyed the 12th and 14th and couldn’t afford those mistakes against a man who had rediscovered his inner resolve.
Willett struck one telling blow after another over the closing four holes. When the desperate Rahm found the water at the 18th, the man from Sheffield allowed himself a smile that turned into a broad grin when he saw his wife Nic and two young sons — Zac and Noah — behind the 18th green.
‘Days like this don’t just mean a lot to me, it’s the team around me who never gave up and kept me going when I was spending endless days working on a new technique and wondering whether I was doing the right thing,’ he said. ‘The bottom line is that I had an undying want to get back to the top.’
From 462nd, he is now back in the world’s top 40 and there’s plenty more to come provided he stays healthy.
Jon Rahm was Willett’s closest competitor but could not sustain his challenge
There might be more redemption as well. Remember the lost soul who had a miserable time at the 2016 Ryder Cup in America? Now he’s the winner of the first qualifying event for next year’s match in Wisconsin.
No one else got close enough to mount a title challenge on Sunday, as Justin Rose had problems in the middle of his round that ended his chances.
Billy Horschel and Patrick Reed finished joint fourth to become the first Americans placed in the top five since Rick Hartmann in 1987.
Expect more Americans to play next year as word spreads regarding this special event.
Rory McIlroy completed a good weekend’s work, following up his third round 65 with a 67 to sneak inside the top 10. He was yet another to pay tribute to the colossal crowds, including an encouraging number of under 16s.
Golf might have its issues with slow play and the ball might go too far. But the fact is, when it comes to bums on seats at tournaments, the game is more popular now that it has ever been.