Danny Willett arrived at this week’s Dunhill Links Championship wishing he could travel back in time to the scene of his recent three-putt title-blowing nightmare – but will have to settle for a return to the scene of his brilliant win last year.
Rather than dwell on what might and perhaps should have been, Willett returns to the spotlight as the defending champion at the unique DP World Tour event that will once again be played over three of Scotland’s finest layouts – the Old Course at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.
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“Inside, you’re obviously screaming at yourself,” reflected an upbeat Willett, who was looking for just his second victory on US soil following his stunning Masters success in 2016.
“But you can’t look at that week in a bad way. You still finished second. You still picked up a hell of a lot of points. Yes, you would have liked to have re-wound time for two minutes but we can’t do that.
“We’ve got to kind of take from it, and when we are in that position again, it won’t happen. Like I say, take the positives from it.”
Willett earned plaudits for the way he dealt with the gut-wrenching finale but had equal praise for Homa who followed up his win by taking a starring role in the United States’ Presidents Cup victory over their International opponents last week.
Willett said: “Obviously it was a little bit of a shock to the system at the time but, I mean Max, obviously, he’s 15th in the world. He’s a great player and he had a great year last year, coming in there defending champion and favourite.
“You know, not that it always happens, but if anyone was going to probably do it, it would have probably been him.
“We’ve still won many times around the world and played well on Sundays to win. So like I said, I played great all day, the finish obviously wasn’t what we wanted but you’ve still got to take a hell of a lot from a great week.”
Willett, who will tee it up alongside the likes of Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick this week, hopes that his form continues and boosts his chances of a return to the Ryder Cup ranks with the qualification clock now ticking ahead of the match play showdown in Italy next year.
“Obviously I want to go back there to Rome and help the team, and this is obviously another big week in that journey,” commented the soon-to-be 35-year-old, who is wary that the next generation of players may court favour with captain Luke Donald as Europe look to bounce back from their record 19-9 mauling to the US last year.
“There’s always a transition period,” said Willett. “I think America kind of went through it four to six years ago after they got beat in Paris and since then all the younger guys have stepped up and played well and come through.
“Obviously last time was a pretty good beating with the guys, and I was watching that. And it was a tough one to kind of watch, and being a past Ryder Cup player.
“You see the guys coming through, obviously Bobby Mac (MacIntyre) has been playing well for the last couple years now. Guido’s (Migliozzi) good. You’ve got the Hojgaard twins (Rasmus and Nicolai). You have a lot of good players that are coming through, and you just hope that they can continue to do that all the way through.
“At some point we are going to have to go through a transition phase where you’re going to have to let guys kind of take the rookie role and see how they cope, in preparation potentially for two, four years’ time.”
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