Nine hundred and 53 days after his last victory, six months after he had slumped to 462nd in the world rankings, and Danny Willett’s back.
Back in the winner’s enclosure; back to where he feels he belongs. Finally, following a final round at the DP World Tour Championship on Sunday in which he always just about kept everyone at bay, Willett’s wait is over.
“A long, long time,” said the Englishman, whose game has been wrecked by injury and wracked with doubt since not long after he won the 2016 Masters. “Winning's a rarity on tour, really. I'm pleased to have won the tournaments that I've won over the last few years. I've won some pretty big ones, and obviously Augusta is always going to be special.
“But this, coming back after everything that's happened, is going to go down in the history books for myself as one of the most pleasing.”
The way he grasped it was a delight, too. Out in the final group alongside Patrick Reed, the current Masters champion who shared the overnight lead, Willett looked to have spurned his chance when he dropped two shots in three holes at the beginning of the back nine. In an instance, his three-shot advantage was gone.
But Willett responded. He reeled off three birdies in four holes from the 14th, a run that included a stunning tee shot on the par-3 17th. He survived a nerve-jangling drive on the final hole that nestled on the brink of the brook, and signed off on a 4-under par 68, an 18-under par total and, crucially, a two-shot win.
Reed and Matt Wallace, who at one point shared the summit, sat two back. Three players, including defending champion Jon Rahm, were two further behind.
To his immense credit, Willett stood strong. As the tension to seal a first victory in two-and-a-half years built, he drew on his most recent success.
“The one thing that you can't teach is how you cope under pressure down the stretch,” he said. “That just comes naturally to some people.
“You draw back. You draw on a lot of things. You think of shots you hit around Augusta, and how you felt there, hands were shaking, how your nerves were, holing a few of them little slippery six footers, and we had a few of them today.
“But I haven't been able to draw on it, because I haven't been in a proper position to be able to do so.”
Thankfully for him, his position off the tee on 18 was OK in the end. Holding a two-shot lead, he wafted a 3-wood right. For his next shot, Willett stood on the precipice of the creek that runs all the way up the final hole, but managed to lay-up and then get down in three. Crisis averted.
“It was nice there,” he said, laughing. “We leaked it a little bit and the breeze got hold of it. Fortunately, we stayed dry. Second shot came out great from what could have been not so good. Yeah, it was a nice little Brucey [bonus] to see it sitting there.”
It helped bank a nice little bonus of €1,177,645 (Dh4.94 million) too. Although, given where he was and where he strides now, money won’t have been the greatest prize.
“It was a tough old time,” the six-time European Tour winner said. “That's why I'm a very lucky man. I've got a fantastic family at home and some fantastic friends. A lot of positive people around, even when I was really not.”
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