Danny Willett's turbulent year enters the final straight
Danny Willett picked the perfect word to describe his year '“ turbulent.
From the high of winning a first Major championship to the low of a seemingly unshakable lack of form in a period which included the Ryder Cup, the Sheffield golfer has been through the wringer during the 2016 season.
The 29-year-old kicked off the season with three top five finishes – one being a tournament triumph – from his first five events.
And then came his Masters triumph in April, where his introduction to the wider golfing public was announced with a quite spectacular final round performance.
But settling into life as a Major winner proved tough for Willett, coming mere days after becoming a father for the first time.
The added attention and increased commitments brought by becoming Masters champion seemed to have an impact on his game, and the consistent strong standard which he could be relied upon producing evaded him in plenty of tournaments.
His debut in the Ryder Cup was disastrous – starting with the controversial comments made by his brother and ending having failed to pick up a single point for a losing European team.
By Sunday though, much of the year’s bad times could have been swept aside.
Though the second half of the season has seen him largely struggle to replicate his superb form that catapulted him into the golfing elite and brought him the Green Jacket in Augusta, he could still end the season atop the European Order of Merit.
His more recent struggles ensured he dropped into second place in the Race To Dubai, behind Ryder Cup team mate Henrik Stenson.
The Race today moves into its final lap, with the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
And for the second season, Willett has a genuine sight of the Race To Dubai title but could still come up agonisingly short, despite having led the way for much of the year.
To have any chance, he must finish inside the top four this weekend. Only a tournament win would guarantee him the title without having to rely on the results of rivals Alex Noren, Rory McIlroy and Stenson – the latter of which he will tee off alongside for the first round at 8.40am on Thursday.
“It’s been a very turbulent year,” Willett said.
“We’ve had the ultimate of highs and a few real lows the last few months and now here we are.
“We’ve got four rounds of golf left in what’s been a pretty long season and a slightly different situation to last year, but we still need to win the golf tournament to win the Race to Dubai.
“If we control what we can and win a golf tournament, then nobody can take it away from us. It could be an exciting week.”
Had anyone been asked about Willett’s chances of coming out on top as late as last Saturday morning, even the most staunch of supporters would not have been confident.
But his final two rounds at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa raised hopes.
Though there were a few mis-steps, Willett looked more like himself for the first time in a while.
And he admits he rediscovered his confidence at the ideal time.
“I have a little bit more confidence after the last couple of rounds last week,” Willett said. “I actually allowed myself to play golf. I didn’t try to swing it perfectly or do anything on the course that you do on the range.
“At times you’ve got to get out of your own way and just allow yourself to play golf again.”
Willett finished second behind Rory McIlroy last year, again having been edged into second place late in the season.
The Hackenthorpe ace says he could stomach finishing second every year because it would mean he had shown an incredible level of consistency.
But he admits he would lifting the ridiculously large Race To Dubai trophy would mean a lot.
“I’d love to finish first at least once in my life,” he said. “If I were to finish second for the rest of my life, it’s not that you’re playing bad golf, you’ve had a massively consistent year.
“But unfortunately we are coming up against Rory, Stenson, Alex, who are playing great golf, and to be able to finish number one from how good the fields are, I think it’s a very difficult task.”
His task this weekend is difficult yet simple.
If Willett was to finish fourth, Stenson would need to be outside the top 30 for the Sheffield ace to top the order of merit.
A third place finish would need to be met by Stenson failing to break into the top nine.
Should Willett finish second, Stenson must be outside the top two and Noren not triumph for him to claim the Race To Dubai crown.
It could be a turbulent weekend.