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Ken Borland

Willett simmers, then red-hot over the weekend at Sun City

Posted on January 30, 2015 by Ken

Danny Willett simmered in the first two rounds before a red-hot weekend saw him cruise to a four-stroke victory in the Nedbank Golf Challenge, the Englishman firing a brilliant six-under-par 66 on Sunday to seal the deal at Sun City.

Following a sensational 65 in the third round that vaulted him into the final group, Willett was barely challenged on Sunday as he birdied three of the first five holes. Barring some moments of pressure on the sixth, seventh, 12th and 14th holes, when he produced quality shots to save the situation, the 27-year-old was in cruise-control as fellow Englishmen Ross Fisher and Luke Donald hardly had a sniff.

Donald, the overnight leader, was beaten by six strokes and vouched for Willett’s brilliance on the day.

“I could have played a bit better but I still would have had to shoot five‑under just to tie with Danny.  He played really focused golf today and hats off, he’s a deserved winner.

“He just had a red‑hot putter, didn’t seem to miss and did everything really well. He just drove it amazingly well around here, which is a very tough, tight golf course. There’s a lot of trouble, and every time when the pressure is on, he hit it down the middle,” Donald said.

Willett, trailing by one overnight, claimed the lead when he picked up three early shots, proving lethal from the fringe. On the par-five second, a delightful chip set up a birdie, and on the third and fifth holes, he sank lengthy downhill birdie putts from the fringe.

“I hit a lot of driver on the first few holes where a lot of other golfers would hit irons. It meant I had a five-iron into two, a nine-iron into three, where the others are hitting five or six-irons into narrow greens. There was no hanging back for me,” Willett said.

The win takes the former world number one amateur into the top 60 on the world professional rankings and means a definite place in the Majors is beckoning, never mind the Ryder Cup points earned by one of Europe’s rising stars.

“It’s a ridiculous amount of money to win, but a week like this won’t be matched anywhere, not even on the PGA Tour. It’s great to win against a very good field, because it says I’m improving and I can compete against the best,” Willett said.

The win was based on an aggressive strategy off the tee, devised with caddy John Smart, and his deft touch around and on the greens.

“We had a good game-plan, the course is visually intimidating off the tee, but we wanted to be aggressive and take it on, I trusted my driver. We would take on shots where others would lay back.

“I also felt comfortable on the greens, they remind me of home without much grain on them. The grass around the greens is also not as sticky as elsewhere, it feels similar to home,” Willett said.

Donald closed the gap to two as they reached the turn with a birdie on the par-five ninth, having laid up while Willett reached the green in two but misread his eagle putt. But the former world number one bogeyed 10 while the eventual winner birdied from 12 feet.

Both Donald and Fisher birdied the par-five 14th to potentially close the gap to two with four holes to play, but Willett produced a remarkable bunker shot and sank a clutch putt for birdie himself.

“It was always comfortable enough, but you still put pressure on yourself, you’re saying ‘well I can only throw this away from here’. Three-putting on nine after I hit two good shots in gave me a kick up the backside and it was a good one to win…” Willett said.

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