Danny Willett insisted “fate” played a crucial part in him becoming the first Englishman since Nick Faldo in 1996 to win the Masters and only the second ever to wear the green jacket.
A stunning afternoon at Augusta National saw Willett upstage the long-time leader and defending champion Jordan Spieth. The Yorkshireman won by three shots at five under par, having trailed Spieth by five when the Texan took to the 10th tee.
Willett’s first child, a boy, arrived prematurely on the Tuesday before Masters week, with the uncertainty over that birth date meaning he wasn’t certain even to play in the Masters for a time. “It’s not been a bad last 12 days,” said Willett. “Words can’t describe the feelings of what’s going on and what we’ve just accomplished. I’m just going to have to wait and see if it sinks in. I can’t wait to get home and celebrate with my family.
“My wife was born, in about 10 minutes’ time, 28 years ago, it’s her birthday back home today [Monday]. My son was due today and he came early too, obviously, letting me come and play. So you talk about fate, you talk about everything else that goes with it, it’s just been a crazy, crazy week.
“I said I wouldn’t come here if he wasn’t born and I was sticking by that. Thankfully he answered my prayers and came early. People were saying ‘Try to bring the green jacket home for the little man’. It’s a bit big but I am sure he will grow into it.”
Willett’s round of 67 on Sunday contrasted with Spieth’s 73. This marked only the 28-year-old’s second Masters appearance; he tied 38th a year ago. Willett’s success will earn him $1.8m and a move to ninth in the world rankings.
“Obviously Sandy Lyle and Nick Faldo [and Ian Woosnam] were the last Brits, a long, long time ago,” he added. “And to follow up with them, it’s fantastic. They were great champions to win the Masters. And I still can’t believe I’m going to be in and amongst them. And in the champions locker room, it really is mind-boggling for me.”
Jack Nicklaus, the 18-time major winner, was amongst those to offer sympathy to Spieth. “I think the whole golfing world feels for Jordan Spieth,” Nicklaus said. “He had a chance to do something truly special and something very few have done before—and be the youngest to accomplish that—and he just didn’t pull through.
“My heart goes out to him for what happened, but I know that Jordan is a young man who will certainly learn from this experience and there will be some good that comes out of this for him. He’s a wonderful talent and a wonderful young man.”
Understandably, Willett regarded the circumstances of Spieth’s collapse as extraordinary. “It had been tough,” he said. “Every time we seemed to make ground, Jordan kept pulling ahead. And we were just trying to dig in and dig in and try and make birdies and birdies. I thought we had to get to six or seven under. Then I look at the leaderboard and he’s already at seven and it was just, it was just a very surreal day, when you look back at the ebbs and flows. It was fortunate that the shots we hit were correct at that time and we holed a few putts when we needed to.
“It all happened very, very quickly, obviously. We went from behind to suddenly two in front. It was all a bit surreal.”
Spieth was visibly distraught when carrying out post-round interviews and even when presenting Willett with the green jacket. The 22-year-old’s low point was a seven at the par three 12th, which included two balls hit into a water hazard.
“It’s tough, really tough,” said Spieth. “Four birdies in a row [from the 6th to the 9th] and I knew that even par [on the back nine] is good by at least a shot. Sometimes that makes it hard, you go away from the game plan and start playing conservative. A few weak swings and suddenly I am not leading any more.
“We still have the confidence that we are a closing team, we can close. I have no doubt about that ability. It was just a very tough 30 minutes for me that I hopefully never experience again.”
Willett admitted he could “empathise” with the man who ultimately tied second with Lee Westwood. “He shook my hand like the true gent he is and said ‘Really well played,’” said Willett. “He’s a class act.”
This article was written by Ewan Murray at Augusta National, for theguardian.com on Monday 11th April 2016 02.41 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010