THE MASTERS 2016

Golf: Birth of new 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett

Jordan Spieth presenting Danny Willett with the green jacket after the Englishman won the final round of the Masters in only his second appearance at Augusta.
Jordan Spieth presenting Danny Willett with the green jacket after the Englishman won the final round of the Masters in only his second appearance at Augusta. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Willett victorious thanks to son's early birth and Spieth's final-round stumble

AUGUSTA (Georgia) • Danny Willett was not even going to go to Augusta National if new son Zac had been born on his due date, which was Sunday, the same day his daddy won the Masters.

Instead, wife Nicole gave birth on March 30, and the Englishman flew to the year's first Major last Monday and departed with a green jacket after a final-round meltdown by defending champion Jordan Spieth handed him a shocking victory.

Willett fired a flawless five-under 67 to finish on five-under 283, three shots ahead of Spieth (73) and compatriot Lee Westwood (69).

"It has just been the most ridiculously awesome 12 days," Willett said. "Little man was due today... he listened to his dad. Fate, one thing or the other."

There was symmetry, too, to the way his victory transpired.

  • Timeline of collapse

    5.05am (Singapore time)

    Jordan Spieth reaches the turn at seven-under with a five-shot lead over Danny Willett, who is on 12, three groups ahead of the final pairing.

    5.35am

    After an errant tee shot at 11, Spieth makes back-to-back bogeys to open the back nine. Willett closes to within two shots with a two-putt birdie at 13, followed by another birdie at 14.

    5.48am

    Spieth hits two shots in Rae's Creek en route to a quadruple bogey at 12. Willett pars at 15. He now has a three-shot lead over Spieth. 6.04am Spieth battles back with a birdie at 13, but Willett matches him with a seven-foot birdie putt at 16.

    6.31am

    Willett two-putts from 14 feet for a closing par to finish at five-under. Spieth is on 16, two shots back. But his par-bogey-par finish comes up three strokes shy as he shares second place with Lee Westwood.

    REUTERS


    MASTERS FINAL ROUND

    Par-72 Augusta National (Selected, USA unless stated)

    283 Danny Willett (Eng) 70 74 72 67.

    286 Jordan Spieth 66 74 73 73, Lee Westwood (Eng) 71 75 71 69.

    287 Dustin Johnson 73 71 72 71, Paul Casey (Eng) 69 77 74 67, J.B. Holmes 72 73 74 68.

    288 Soren Kjeldsen (Den) 69 74 74 71, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 71 72 72 73, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng) 71 76 74 67.

    289 Daniel Berger 73 71 74 71, Rory McIlroy (Nir) 70 71 77 71, Justin Rose (Eng) 69 77 73 70, Brandt Snedeker 71 72 74 72, Jason Day (Aus) 72 73 71 73.

    291 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 72 72 77 70, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 72 77 71 71.

    292 Emiliano Grillo (Arg) 71 75 74 72, Billy Horschel 70 77 73 72, Danny Lee (Nzl) 68 74 79 71, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 74 73 75 70.

    294 Bernhard Langer (Ger) 72 73 70 79.

    296 Sergio Garcia (Esp) 69 75 81 71.

    297 Bubba Watson 75 75 76 71.

    299 Adam Scott (Aus) 76 72 75 76, Davis Love 73 73 76 77.

    300 Ian Poulter (Eng) 69 78 82 71, Martin Kaymer (Ger) 74 75 79 72.

    307 Thongchai Jaidee (Tha) 72 76 81 78 .

The last Englishman to win the Masters was Nick Faldo, who won it for the third time in 1996 after Greg Norman blew a six-shot lead in the final round.

Twenty years later, Willett was the beneficiary of another collapse.

Spieth, who sank four birdies in a row to reach the turn with a five-shot lead over Willett, went bogey-bogey to begin the back nine.

And disaster struck at the 12th hole as Spieth plunked his tee shot and his third into Rae's Creek en route to the first quadruple bogey of his professional career.

His lead vanished as the ball did in a splashdown to plunge him from the lead at one-under to three back.

"It was a very tough 30 minutes for me that hopefully I will never experience again," said a shell-shocked Spieth.

"I can't imagine that was fun for anyone to experience other than Danny's team."

Still, Willett had to be in position to profit.

"If I had been five-over par then it wouldn't have mattered what Jordan did," he acknowledged.

When suddenly holding the lead, with the eyes of the golfing world upon him, Willett had to ensure he did not become the next player to fold.

Three holes could have represented a nerve-jangling eternity, yet he produced a birdie-par-par finish.

"You practise," said Willett, when asked for an explanation for his composure in only his 12th Major start. "That's what you do - endless hours of chipping, putting, hitting shots, imagining hitting shots at certain golf courses at certain times.

"Fortunately enough, I have been able to relive some of those dreams and those practice sessions."

At 28, Willett has been something of a slow burner. Albeit two years the Northern Irishman's senior, he played as a team-mate of Rory McIlroy in the 2007 Walker Cup.

Willett turned professional the following year, when progress was steady rather than stunning. Ongoing back problems, which still have to be carefully managed, threatened to halt his progression.

Two years ago, he was bouncing about from 103rd to 102nd, 85th and 83rd in the world rankings.

He arrived at the Masters ranked 12th after winning his fourth PGA European Tour title at the Dubai Desert Classic in February.

Today, he is No. 9, and US$1.8 million (S$2.4 million) richer. Not bad for someone who took an affinity to golf because he struggled to beat his three brothers at other sports.

Coming to grips with his Major breakthrough in only his second Masters appearance, however, took Willett a while.

"You dream about these kind of days," said the first European winner of the Masters since Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999.

"But for them to happen, there's four a year, so to actually be sat here, it's still mind boggling."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2016, with the headline 'Birth of a champion'. Print Edition | Subscribe