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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Danny Willett and Patrick Reed in battle of Masters champions at top of DP World Tour Championship leaderboard

Two players in possession of green jackets will contest the final group on Sunday, leading the chasing pack by one shot

Danny Willett will take his place alongside Patrick Reed in the final group for the final round of the DP World Tour Championship. AFP
Danny Willett will take his place alongside Patrick Reed in the final group for the final round of the DP World Tour Championship. AFP

If it all comes down to this, then what better way than having Masters champions past and present heading a packed leaderboard at the DP World Tour Championship?

The 2018 European Tour’s final stop concludes on Sunday at Jumeirah Golf Estates, with Danny Willett and Patrick Reed locked at the summit on 14-under par. After three rounds, they sit one ahead of England's Jordan Smith, with another nine players, including defending champion Jon Rahm and two-time winner Henrik Stenson, within four shots.

Perched at the top, Willett is seeking a first victory since persistent injury precipitated a major slump. His last victory was the 2016 Masters.

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Race to Dubai title at stake but Molinari 'can't be mad' at best friend Fleetwood

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In a strange quirk of fate, his closest challenger at the beginning of play at the Earth Course on Sunday will be the Green Jacket's current incumbent, Patrick Reed. For Willett, though, there seems much more to gain.

“I don't think tomorrow could be a bad day regardless, or it could compare to some of the bad days I've had,” said the Englishman, who has slipped from the world’s top 10 two seasons ago to as low as 462nd earlier this year.

“There's not many negatives we can spin. You pitch up tomorrow, you don't play well, you don't play well. You go back out, see the kids, you come back out in January and play well and see what happens. I'm in a nice place.”

Let's not forget, Reed is comfortable playing the pantomime villain. The American’s 5-under 67 on Saturday was one better than Willett’s, and subsequently he could become the first from the other side of the Atlantic to win the event.

“It means a lot,” Reed said. “Just to be in the situation to be able to come over here and play, with the limited schedule that I play over here on the European Tour, and to have a chance to go out and finish the year off right and win a golf tournament, give myself a little early Christmas gift, would be amazing.”

Lee Westwood has got one under the Christmas tree already. Last week, the Englishman snapped a four-year winless drought on the European Tour by triumphing at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City.

A superb 65 on Saturday lifted him to 12-under alongside Dean Burmester and maintains his chances of going two-for-two this week. It would feel kind of fitting, given it is the tournament’s 10th anniversary. Westwood won the inaugural event, in 2009.

“It seems like five minutes [ago],” the 45-year-old Englishman said. “That's how life is, isn't it, when you get to our age? It starts to go quick.”

Back at that first tournament, Westwood went head-to-head with Rory McIlroy for the Race to Dubai title and famously came out trumps. McIlroy has previous around Jumeriah Golf Estates as well, however, winning the event in 2012 and 2015.

A disappointing 71 on Saturday left the four-time major champion five shots back, although he won’t rule anything out.

“If I were to shoot 65 tomorrow, get to 16-under, it might hold up,” said McIlroy, as a strangely overcast day was coming to its close. “Especially with the conditions the way they are going to be.

“I just need to get off to a good start. I need to play the par 5s better, and if I can do that and just not make some of the silly mistakes I made today, who knows?

“Even with the conditions, we've seen guys shoot 65s and 66s. I'm thinking 17-under probably wins this tomorrow. So I need to go out there and shoot two 4-unders each nine and see how it goes.”