Image: Wikipedia/Jason Denaro

The inside track: Warwick Golf on Willett’s win

The 2016 Masters finished in thrilling fashion as Danny Willett defied the odds and the tricky conditions to win the first major of the year, and claim what is arguably Golf’s most prestigious prize – the green jacket. The 28-year-old from Sheffield put together a faultless final round of five-under par at the Augusta National course, finishing three shots ahead of his nearest competitors – fellow Englishman Lee Westwood, and last year’s champion, Jordan Spieth. In doing so, he becomes only the second Englishman to win the tournament.

Prior to the tournament, picking a winner seemed an impossible task. Favourite, and world number one, Jason Day had looked in imperious form after winning his previous two PGA tour events. You also couldn’t discount world number three, Rory McIlroy who, though not in perfect form, had achieved top 10 finishes in each of his two previous Masters. However, for both players it was a case of what might have been, with McIlroy especially struggling on Augusta’s notoriously difficult greens. Come Sunday, the pair would finish tied tenth at one-over par.

Other pre-tournament favourites included previous Masters winners Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson. All three had looked in fantastic nick before the tournament, but struggled over the four days, finishing well behind the frontrunners. Multiple other previous green jacket winners, including Trevor Immelman, Phil Mickelson and Charl Schwartzel, all missed the cut at the halfway stage, while a dreadful first round meant that world number five, Ricky Fowler, likewise missed out.

The 28-year-old from Sheffield becomes only the second Englishman to win the tournament.

Going into the final round, it appeared that Spieth was nailed on to secure his second successive Masters victory, having led after each of the first three rounds. Indeed, with only nine holes left to play, the world number two had a commanding five-shot lead, and few could have seen the American, who seems to perform consistently well at Augusta, losing it from there.

It is said that Amen Corner, the stretch of holes from eleven to thirteen, is where the Masters are won and lost – and this year proved no exception. Having bogeyed the tenth hole, Spieth proceeded to bogey eleven, before losing it completely on the twelfth; the 22-year-old Texan inexplicably found the water twice and made a quadruple-bogey seven. Suddenly he was trailing Willett by two shots, and although Spieth bounced back with a birdie at the next hole, the damage was already done.

Willett, on the other hand, looked comfortable throughout his second Masters appearance and was one of only two players not to drop a shot in the final round. By the sixteenth hole, the 66-1 outsider knew he was two shots clear of the field; for a man who has not won in America before, let alone a major tournament, you could forgive him for being nervous. If he was, he didn’t show it. Willett played the final three holes in one-under par to all but seal victory, and the $1.8 million cheque that accompanies it. The likes of Spieth and Dustin Johnson looked capable of denying Europe a first Masters winner since 1999, but in the end Willett’s lead was never threatened. Westwood, his playing partner, joined Spieth as a runner-up; the second time that the 42-year-old has managed this feat.

For a man who has not won in America before, let alone a major tournament, you could forgive him for being nervous.

Now up to number nine in the world rankings, Willett alluded to fate in his post-round interview. Not only was the unforgettable Sunday his wife’s birthday, but it was also the due date of his first child. As a result, he had anticipated not playing the major; it was only due to the early delivery of his son that he chose to play, becoming the 89th and final entrant in doing so. That must now seem like the best decision he has ever made!

Surprises came in the way of Danny Lee and amateur Bryson DeChambeau, who both looked strong after the first two rounds. Come the final round, Smylie Kaufman was just one shot off the lead, with young Hideki Matsuyama and veteran Bernhard Langer close behind.

The final leaderboard, featuring a seven-strong European contingent in the top 10, bodes particularly well for European hopes in the Ryder Cup this autumn at the Hazeltine National in Minnesota. Before then, if the unpredictable outcome of the Masters is anything to go by, the US Open in June is certain to provide another dose of true golfing excitement!

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