Danny Willett from England hit the big time in 2016 when he won the Masters Tournament, his last round of 67 – 5 under par – him past a faltering Jordan Spieth.
He was in the top 10 after that tournament, but after injuries and loss of form, he fell outside the top 400. In 2018, after rediscovering his game, he won the season-dependent DP World Tour Championship, Dubai . He is now at number 31.
Confidence has been restored, he is looking forward to returning as title defender this week. The following conversation has been edited and condensed:
Your victory over the DP World Tour Championship last year was your first victory since you won the Masters. Were there ever moments when you thought you would never win again?
I certainly went to some nice dark places and of course I was worried if I would ever come back. It was a really difficult time. I broke up with my then caddy Jon [Smart] and luckily my best friend Sam Haywood came in to help, but he was also there for support.
I am fortunate to have a lot of support from the team around me, and they always believed in me and supported me during those difficult times. I struggled with an injury and then came to the point that I thought it was time to take a different path with my coaching and started working with Sean Foley.
The most important thing that Sean and I did, along with my strength and fitness coach, Kevin Duffy, was making sure that I could swing without pain. It has been a long recovery process, but around March 2018 I was able to play a tournament without taking painkillers, that was in Malaysia and it was a huge boost for all of us. That meant then that we could really start improving the swing and gaining more consistency in my game. That clearly came about at the end of last year when Dubai won.
Golf is such a mental game and can be pretty lonely if you don't play well. What helped you stay healthy?
Sam certainly kept me healthy, but having a good team around me, who all believed in me and trusted the process, always kept me positive when I was at my lowest. Of course my wife Nic is always helpful and there for me. I was probably quiet and down, so it's huge to have her and the kids at home to pick me up. Lee Westwood is a good friend, and I was certainly inspired by his victory the week before at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Paul Waring is also a very good friend, and he would always stay good.
Looking back at your victory in Dubai, what were your main emotions?
I was very relaxed all week, my game was really in a good place, the course matches my game, and the fact that my family and friends were there with me just meant that I I was in a really good place. I was clearly nervous because I didn't win that long, but I just trusted what we had been working on and luckily I managed to get it over, not without a bit of drama at the end.
You eventually won with two shots, but how nervous was that final round?
It was only two shots, but it clearly came down to the 17th hole where I made birdie and Patrick Reed made bogey, so that was a swing with two shots.
How did you celebrate?
I was able to make it with my family and friends, and the European Tour had done champagne and drinks at the clubhouse, so we all had a few drinks. I actually came to an Audemars Piguet dinner, for which I am an ambassador, because they always organize a cool day in Dubai on the Monday after the DP World Championship, so it was nice to see those guys and celebrate with them. We ended the evening with an extremely late dinner with family and friends.
Do you feel that your game is in the right shape to compete for another major?
I feel that this year I have shown some form in the majors. I played well at the British Open and United States Open and certainly felt like I was in good positions in the final round, but I'm just happy to play with more consistency and hope I can keep improving. Of course I would like to win another, so I will continue to do my best and see where we end up.