Danny drives home safely at Nedbank Golf Challenge

Danny Willett set out to grab the R6.5-million Nedbank Golf Challenge by the scruff of its neck and he achieved just that on Sunday with a commanding four-stroke victory in a 72-hole score of 18-under-par 270.

It was a week in which he took the first round to get used to Gary Player Country Club with a one-under-par 71, and then he overwhelmed it with rounds of 68, 65 and a closing 66 to be well clear of runner-up Ross Fisher, with former world number one Luke Donald a further two shots back in third.

“At the start of the week, my caddie John (Smart) and I came up with a game plan to take it aggressively off the tee on this golf course,” he said. “It’s visually very intimidating, but I’ve been driving the ball well, and the idea was to give myself a lot more wedges and nine-irons in where the other guys might be laying it back.”

It paid dividends throughout the tournament, but no more so in the final round where he made three birdies in the opening five holes, the third of which came on the fifth where Donald, the overnight leader, made bogey and opened the door for a charging Willett.

“I hit a lot of drivers off the first few holes,” he said, “where a lot of guys were probably hitting irons and three-woods. You can’t guarantee a fast start, but certainly intention was to go out there and not hang back.”

By the time Willett, Fisher and Donald were well into the back nine, he had moved to 16-under-par, and had not been fewer than two strokes clear for a while. But still he attacked.

Willett took driver off the 13th tee, while his playing partners chose to be more cautious, fearing getting caught up by the trees on either side of the fairway where it narrows, and the fairway bunkers which are waiting to prey on wayward drives. It was typical of his adventurous approach to golf when Willett took driver. And it was indicative of the level of his play throughout the final round that he threaded the ball through the clutches of those bunkers, leaving himself an easy approach to the flag.

“I’ve taken driver there all week, except in the third round,” he said. “With my new equipment, it sets up perfectly for me to start it on the tree on the left of the fairway and move the ball back into the fairway.”

And then he went through the green on 14, into the back of the left hand greenside trap. His lie left him with his right foot on the grass, and his left two feet lower in the sand. There was very little green with which to work. It was a shot which could have lost him the tournament. A few practice swings later, he exploded the ball out to within five feet.

Fisher made birdie before Willett stepped up to put to keep the gap at three. He stepped away as a bug settled on his putter’s blade. And then he stepped back and sank the putt as he had done all day when it was necessary.

“The sand save on 14 is probably the best I’m ever going to have,” he said. “The other two were creeping up on me, and that just gave me a little breathing space again.”

He took driver again on 17, and, with danger lurking on the left, it wasn’t a percentage play when he had a three-stroke lead with two to play. But he nailed it again, as he did on 13, and left himself 104 metres to the flag which was tucked right out at the edge of the peninsula green. At this stage, a hint of conservatism crept into his game, and instead of attacking the flag, he attacked a spot 15 feet right of it. And he rammed home the 12-footer that was left for him to go four ahead.

All that was left was a victory lap up the 18th. And after that was done, Willett was remembering the walk up to the ninth, where the names of all the champions are engraved into the pathway. His name will be the third Englishman after Sir Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood on that roll of honour.

“Those are some good names to be next to,” he said. “You kind of realise how many great players have been here and walked over the same bridge as you have and had a great week.”

 

Danny drives home safely at Nedbank Golf Challenge

Danny Willett set out to grab the R6.5-million Nedbank Golf Challenge by the scruff of its neck and he achieved just that on Sunday with a commanding four-stroke victory in a 72-hole score of 18-under-par 270.

 

It was a week in which he took the first round to get used to Gary Player Country Club with a one-under-par 71, and then he overwhelmed it with rounds of 68, 65 and a closing 66 to be well clear of runner-up Ross Fisher, with former world number one Luke Donald a further two shots back in third.

 

“At the start of the week, my caddie John (Smart) and I came up with a game plan to take it aggressively off the tee on this golf course,” he said. “It’s visually very intimidating, but I’ve been driving the ball well, and the idea was to give myself a lot more wedges and nine-irons in where the other guys might be laying it back.”

 

It paid dividends throughout the tournament, but no more so in the final round where he made three birdies in the opening five holes, the third of which came on the fifth where Donald, the overnight leader, made bogey and opened the door for a charging Willett.

 

“I hit a lot of drivers off the first few holes,” he said, “where a lot of guys were probably hitting irons and three-woods. You can’t guarantee a fast start, but certainly intention was to go out there and not hang back.”

 

By the time Willett, Fisher and Donald were well into the back nine, he had moved to 16-under-par, and had not been fewer than two strokes clear for a while. But still he attacked.

 

Willett took driver off the 13th tee, while his playing partners chose to be more cautious, fearing getting caught up by the trees on either side of the fairway where it narrows, and the fairway bunkers which are waiting to prey on wayward drives. It was typical of his adventurous approach to golf when Willett took driver. And it was indicative of the level of his play throughout the final round that he threaded the ball through the clutches of those bunkers, leaving himself an easy approach to the flag.

 

“I’ve taken driver there all week, except in the third round,” he said. “With my new equipment, it sets up perfectly for me to start it on the tree on the left of the fairway and move the ball back into the fairway.”

 

And then he went through the green on 14, into the back of the left hand greenside trap. His lie left him with his right foot on the grass, and his left two feet lower in the sand. There was very little green with which to work. It was a shot which could have lost him the tournament. A few practice swings later, he exploded the ball out to within five feet.

 

Fisher made birdie before Willett stepped up to put to keep the gap at three. He stepped away as a bug settled on his putter’s blade. And then he stepped back and sank the putt as he had done all day when it was necessary.

 

“The sand save on 14 is probably the best I’m ever going to have,” he said. “The other two were creeping up on me, and that just gave me a little breathing space again.”

 

He took driver again on 17, and, with danger lurking on the left, it wasn’t a percentage play when he had a three-stroke lead with two to play. But he nailed it again, as he did on 13, and left himself 104 metres to the flag which was tucked right out at the edge of the peninsula green. At this stage, a hint of conservatism crept into his game, and instead of attacking the flag, he attacked a spot 15 feet right of it. And he rammed home the 12-footer that was left for him to go four ahead.

 

All that was left was a victory lap up the 18th. And after that was done, Willett was remembering the walk up to the ninth, where the names of all the champions are engraved into the pathway. His name will be the third Englishman after Sir Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood on that roll of honour.

 

“Those are some good names to be next to,” he said. “You kind of realise how many great players have been here and walked over the same bridge as you have and had a great week.”

 

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