Danny Willett claims two-shot win at season finale in Dubai
18 November 2018, 12:46 | Updated: 18 November 2018, 18:52
Danny Willett produced a blistering finish to earn his first title for two-and-a-half years with a two-shot triumph at the DP World Tour Championship.
Willett returned to the winners' circle for the first time since his memorable Masters victory in 2016, after which he endured struggles with form and fitness which saw him drop as low as 462nd in the world rankings earlier this year.
The Englishman looked to have missed his chance in the final round of the European Tour season in Dubai when he began the back nine with two bogeys in three holes, but crucial birdies at 14, 15 and 17 lifted him into the outright lead ahead of playing partner Patrick Reed and clubhouse leader Matt Wallace.
And, after a huge stroke of good fortune at the last when his blocked tee shot stopped inches from the water hazard, Willett recovered to make a cast-iron par and complete a 68 for a winning score of 18 under par, with Reed holing from 12 feet for birdie at the last to earn a share of second with Wallace.
Open champion Francesco Molinari ended the season as European No 1 for the first time in his career after Ryder Cup partner Tommy Fleetwood's bid for victory came up eight shots short, while Shubshankar Sharma was crowned Rookie of the Year despite closing with a disappointing 80.
Willett shared the overnight lead with Reed, and the battle of the Masters champions was dominated by the Englishman in the early stages as Reed bogeyed the first before Willett drained a 40-foot putt for an unlikely eagle at the second.
A birdie for Willett on the seven was followed by another Reed bogey at the next, but the American roared back after the turn as he birdied the 10th and 11th and soon found himself just one behind when Willett scrapped his way to a bogey at 12.
The pair traded birdies at the 14th and 15th, but Willett then made the decisive move at the penultimate hole when, after Reed had pulled his tee shot left of the green at the short 17th, the Englishman knocked a stunning iron to five feet and rolled in the chance for birdie.
Reed was unable to get up and down for par as he slipped three shots behind, with Wallace now in the clubhouse on 16 under after he made his fifth birdie of the day at the 18th to return a 68.
But Willett's nerves showed when his three-wood off the tee leaked too far right and appeared destined for the water, and he breathed a huge sigh of relief when he got to his ball and realised it had pulled up just short of the drink and the surrounding rocks.
He was able to advance his second to wedge range, and the 31-year-old Yorkshireman calmly clipped his third to the heart of the green and safely two-putted for the winning par which secured his sixth European Tour title.
Reed, who has not won since landing the Masters crown in April, had to settle for a 70 and a tie for second with Wallace, while last year's winner Jon Rahm put up a stout defence of his title and closed with a 68 which lifted him to 14 under alongside fellow Spaniard Adrian Otaegui and South Africa's Dean Burmester.
Lee Westwood, who won his first tournament for four-and-a-half years at last week's Nedbank Golf Challenge, and the veteran was in contention for back-to-back victories when he got to 14 under with his fifth birdie of the day at the 13th.
But a distraction as he played from a fairway bunker at 15 clearly affected his focus, and a disconsolate Westwood double-bogeyed three of the final four holes to plummet to eight under and into a share of 20th with two-time champion Rory McIlroy, who closed with a lacklustre 73.
(c) Sky News 2018: Danny Willett claims two-shot win at season finale in Dubai