Twelve months ago, Danny Willett ended a 31-month wait for victory with a brilliant two-stroke triumph over the Earth course and the former Masters champion is relishing the chance to defend his title against one of the most exclusive fields in world golf.
“It’s always nice to come back and defend a title anywhere in the world,” said Willett, “and for it to be the final event of the year in Dubai with the new format of 50 guys competing in a really strong field again – it’s good fun.
“We’ll see how the week pans out, how the weather is looking. I’m sure we’ll get four exciting days of golf for everyone that comes to the event. Hopefully on Sunday we’re in a similar position.”
Last year’s European Tour grand finale was Willett’s 63rd event since he slipped into the famous Green Jacket at Augusta National. The proud Yorkshireman had either failed to make the cut or withdrawn from more than half of those tournaments due to a loss of form, confidence or injury problems.
“We weren’t sure if we were going to win again with all the injuries,” he said. “It was nice to come back and do it on such a big stage against such a great field. Coming down the stretch with Patrick Reed and Jon Rahm posting scores I had to prove to myself that when I get in contention, I’m pretty good at closing out golf tournaments. After everything that happened it was a pretty special moment, especially with all the family here and friends.
“Any win in your career is a pretty special moment, but the bigger the event and the bigger the emotion, always makes it feel even better.”
The 32 year old has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in form since his victory in Dubai and now finds himself 31st in the Official World Golf Ranking, having been 276th the week before last year’s DP World Tour Championship.
He was back in the winner’s circle at the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, in September with a superb three-stroke triumph over three-time Rolex Series winner Jon Rahm. Willett’s game looked to be back where it was in the lead-up to the 2016 Masters Tournament but the seven-time European Tour winner insists there is a lot more to come.
“There were still a lot of things at Augusta that I couldn’t do,” he said. “My body was still a constant battle before the Masters Tournament. You look back there, and Augusta was obviously my week, and that doesn’t always happen on Sunday on a back nine.
“In terms of playing-wise, I think I could potentially be better than what I was then. Very different ball flight. Very different golf game and very different outlook on probably what is a good or a bad day or how things go.
“So I think as a whole, the potential is there to be better. Whether that means you’re going to win anything else, no. But been what we’re doing, the potential is definitely better.”