Danny Willett seeks to emulate Irish feat of Seve Ballesteros
WHEN Danny Willett tees off in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Championship at the K Club next month, he will be attempting to equal the feat of the late Seve Ballesteros who, in 1983, completed the US Masters and Irish Open double in the same year.
Many others, among them Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo, Ben Crenshaw, Ian Woosnam and Jose Maria Olazabal, for example, won both but none of them managed to win both in the same season. Willett now has the chance to close that yawning 33-year gap but, like others attempting the double in the same season, he will have stout opposition.
While Willett will be the headline act next month, defending champion Soren Kjeldsen, former Irish Open champion Lee Westwood and his English compatriot Matt Fitzpatrick have also pencilled in their names to tee off on May 19 and the Irish Open has a habit of producing an unfancied contender.
Dane Kjeldsen took the title at Royal County Down after a three-way shootout with England’s Eddie Pepperwell and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger, a birdie at the first play-off hole ending a six-year barren spell for the winner.
Willett, whose entry was confirmed immediately after he donned the Green Jacket last Sunday, is enthusiastic about returning to Ireland. Last year, he finished joint-sixth, winning €81,250, at Royal County Down where he also played in the Walker Cup nine years ago.
“The Irish Open is going to be awesome,” he said.
“Last year, at Royal County Down, was pretty special, especially for me having played there in the Walker Cup in 2007. Rory has done a magnificent job with the tournament and what he is doing for the European Tour and golf in general. I think that with the field we are going to have there [K Club] it is going to be a brilliant tournament.”
The son of a preacher from Sheffield, the Rotherham domiciled Willett (37) is one of the most confident players on tour. He plays the game with a swagger when on song, which suggests he can achieve what he wants - as much of McIlroy, Spieth and world number one Jason Day.
However, he is a grounded player and insists that he is not yet at the level of the top three, but he is aware that he is quickly becoming a member of the golfing elite who can hold his own in any company.
“Guys like Rory, Jordan and Jason have achieved a bit more than me at this stage and I still have a little way to go to be up there with those boys,” he said.
“But it is a fantastic start and a big move in the right direction to start doing special things in the very biggest tournaments. I am looking forward to being part of that illustrious group of Major winners. It still sounds a bit odd, to be honest, but I want to keep moving forward with my career.
“I have no idea how good I can be. I don’t think you can ever tell how good someone can be or what they are capable of. Before Sunday, people probably didn’t think I was capable of what I achieved. Hopefully, I can get into that position again. It’s a special feeling and one that I want to feel a few more times.”
No doubt, Willett will be a major attraction at the K Club – but the Irish fans will also welcome their own Major champions. Host Rory McIlroy, who will hope to get back on track, and Pádraig Harrington, like McIlroy a three-time Major winner, are always very popular with the galleries.
Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke, who won the European Open at the Kildare venue in 2001, Paul McGinley, Graeme McDowell and history-maker Shane Lowry will all be in the draw. Lowry created history by winning the Irish Open at Co Louth as an amateur and he was in the spotlight last Sunday too when he carded a spectacular ace at the 16th hole in the final round at Augusta. Advance tickets, obtainable from www.dubaidutyfreeirishopen.com, are priced at €30 per day or €70 for the four days.