In the last group at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai yesterday were two of the past three Masters champions – Danny Willett and Patrick Reed. Reed had won at Augusta this past April, Willett in 2016. But since that spring day when the 31-year-old Yorkshireman capitalised on Jordan Spieth’s surprise collapse to grab the green jacket, Willett had been winless. Recurring back problems and the collapse of his game, obviously related phenomena, led to him slipping out of the world top-400. It has been a long and winding road back but Willett seems to have made that journey, a closing 68 seeing him home with an 18-under-par total of 270 and victory by two shots from Reed and Matt Wallace, who has enjoyed a scintillating season.
Willett had missed five cuts in his first seven starts of the season and his sixth European Tour title was especially sweet. “Winning is a rarity on tour, really,” he said. “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, this year, really, is going to go down in the history books for myself as one of the most pleasing. I finished out those last five holes, six holes, having not been in that position for a long time. You never know if you’re going to be back in the position and it’s nice that I got back in there and I handled it the way I did.”
The week began with talk centred on whether Tommy Fleetwood could overhaul Francesco Molinari to win the Race to Dubai, which Fleetwood had claimed last year. This would have required Fleetwood to win and Molinari to finish outside the top-five. The Italian half of the Ryder Cup ‘Moliwood’ duo did his bit, Francesco finishing in a tie for 26th on six under par, but Fleetwood was only four shots better in a tie for 16th.
“I’m relieved more than anything, to be honest,” said Molinari. “I wasn’t bursting with energy the last few days but I did what I could and luckily it was good enough. If someone told me I would win [the PGA Championship] at Wentworth, win on the PGA Tour, win the Open, five points at The Ryder Cup and now this, I probably would have laughed. But it’s happened so evidently I’ve done something good.”.
Rory McIlroy’s golf has not been as he would have wanted for most of 2018 (in Dubai he tied for 20th) but there has been no keeping him out of the headlines. He would have preferred they were about his good play, of course, but the European Tour’s chief executive, Keith Pelley, would probably have preferred he hadn’t been in the press at all last week. McIlroy said he might only play two regular events in Europe next year, meaning he might lose his membership of the Tour. “If it were to be that I don’t fulfil my membership next year,” he explained, “it’s not a Ryder Cup year so it’s not the end of the world.”
It was later pointed out to him that any player forfeiting Tour membership for even one season would never be eligible to be a Ryder Cup captain or vice-captain. “That’s 20 years away,” he said. “I don’t have to make a decision [on his membership] until May. So there’s plenty of time.” And so there’s that subject kicked into the long grass, or at least the second cut, for now.
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