Danny Willett claimed his first win since the 2016 Masters with victory in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Willett carded a final round of 68 at Jumeirah Golf Estates to finish 18 under par, two shots ahead of fellow Englishman Matt Wallace and current Masters champion Patrick Reed.
The 31-year-old from Sheffield had not tasted victory since winning his first major title at Augusta National and had slumped from a career-high of ninth to outside the world’s top 450 earlier this season after numerous injuries and a loss of form.
Willett credits coach Sean Foley – who formerly coached Tiger Woods – and fitness trainer Kev Duffy for his resurgence, first teaming up with Foley at last year’s US PGA Championship when he admitted he was “pretty low and open to trying anything” to save his career.
The move paid off and Willett was slowing climbing the world rankings with three top-10 finishes on the European Tour this season, including a tie for seventh in Turkey a fortnight ago.
Having started the final round in a share of the lead with Reed, Willett surged three shots clear with a long-range eagle on the par-five second and a birdie on the seventh.
That lead was wiped out after bogeys on the 10th and 12th, but Willett responded brilliantly to birdie the 14th, 15th and 17th before a heart-stopping moment on the last, where his drive somehow finished inches short of the creek which runs the length of the hole.
The season-ending DP World Tour Championship is set for an enthralling final round with Englishman Danny Willett and American Patrick Reed tied for the lead on 14 under par on a day of low scoring at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Willett, who will be leading from the front after 54 holes for the first time since the 2017 Maybank Championship, posted his third successive round of five under par 65 as he searches for his first title since the 2016 Masters Tournament.
“It would be nice to get back in the winner’s circle,” said Willett. “There’s a lot of golf left, 18 holes. A lot can happen in 18 holes.
“I’m just happy with the golf game. The golf game is in good shape.
“The body is feeling good, and like I’ve said, it’s been a long old year with all the stuff that’s gone on and for this to be the last event I’m going to play in this year with a field this good is a real bonus. I’m going to go out and try and play some good golf tomorrow.”
Reed, who won this year’s Masters, only managed to pick up one shot on the front nine but the American reeled off four birdies in six holes on the back nine to grab a slice of the lead.
“It means a lot to be in with a shout,” said Reed. “Just to be in the situation to be able to come over here and play, with the limited schedule that I play over here on The European Tour, and to have a chance to go out and finish the year off right and win a golf tournament, give myself a little early Christmas gift, a trophy, would be amazing.”
Jordan Smith kept alive his chances of a second European Tour win since graduating from the European Challenge Tour in 2016 with a three under par 60, just one adrift of Willett and Reed at the top of the leaderboard.
Meanwhile, Lee Westwood’s hunt for back-to-back European Tour titles and a second DP World Tour Championship crown is well and truly on after a spellbinding seven under par 65 left the Englishman in a tie for fourth place, just two shots off the lead.
“I played great, I got off to a quick start, which I wanted to do,” said the 45 year old. “I think experience is valuable, whatever you’re doing.
“Whenever you’ve been in a situation before, it’s got to help. I’m just pleased I shot 65 and got myself in there and closer to the leaders, with the conditions as they are and if the wind stays up, then they may not get too far away from me.
“It’s a big improvement today and gives me a chance tomorrow.”
Fellow Englishman Matt Wallace and South Africa’s Dean Burmester join the 24-time European Tour winner in fourth place after carding 71 and 68 respectively.
Tommy Fleetwood admitted his chances of retaining the Race to Dubai title had gone as past and present Masters champions Danny Willett and Patrick Reed set the pace in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Fleetwood needed to win the season-ending event to have any chance of overhauling Ryder Cup team-mate Francesco Molinari on the money list, but struggled to a third round of 74 at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
That left the 27-year-old from Southport just a shot ahead of Molinari, who returned a 70, but more significantly eight strokes behind Willett and Reed, who enjoyed a one-shot lead over Jordan Smith.
Lee Westwood, who is seeking back-to-back wins following his victory in Sun City last week, is two shots off the lead alongside halfway leader Matt Wallace and South Africa’s Dean Burmester, with Rory McIlroy five adrift after a 71 which included a double-bogey on the 17th.
“Today pretty much summed up the second half of the season,” Fleetwood said. “I’ve done plenty of good stuff in tournaments, and then days like today.
“But it is what it is. I’ll go home and I’ll spend time with my son tonight. At the end of the day, it’s just golf, but it does hurt when you have days like that.
“I feel the adrenaline might have gone now. I think you kind of know when your time’s up. I lasted within two days of the (end of the) season. Like I’ve said, it was always a stretch trying to win it.”
Willett has not tasted victory since winning his first major title at Augusta in April 2016 and was outside the world’s top 450 earlier this season following numerous injuries and a loss of form.
But the 31-year-old from Sheffield has also shown signs of improvement with three top-10 finishes and said recently he no longer felt like golf’s version of “Humpty Dumpty.”
“My main goal this year was not really a golfing goal, but body-wise,” Willett said after a third round of 68. “If I could finish the season healthier and fitter than I started the season, I would be somewhere near and that’s exactly what we’ve done.
“This is the sixth out of seven weeks playing golf. We’ve travelled all around the world trying to play a good bit, and it’s nice that my body feels as good now as it ever has, really.”
“I’m not going to lie it would be an amazing thing to win, but regardless of what happens, just looking more in the long-term of my career, really, is pretty good.”