For Danny Willett, Masters looks ‘the start of the journey, not the end’

Danny Willett came into the Masters ranked 12th in the world, yet with a near-anonymous profile to most casual observers. That all changed on Sunday.

Danny Willett celebrates on the 18th hole after finishing the final round of the Masters on Sunday. The Englishman won the tournament. Charlie Riedel / AP / April 10, 2016
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Danny Willett was one of the last players to arrive in Augusta for the 80th Masters and he will certainly be the last to leave.

With his wife Nicole scheduled to give birth on Sunday, the Englishman was set to miss the Masters until newborn son Zacharia arrived early and freed the Englishman to make the trip to play at the year’s first major.

After a stunning victory at Augusta National that surprised perhaps everybody except his inner-circle, Willett was set for a rip-roaring celebration on Sunday night as he tried to process his achievement, the first European to win here since 1999.

“You dream about these kind of days. It’s kind of mind boggling,” Willett said in his thick Yorkshire accent.

“I’ve won a couple of golf tournaments but this is a different league.”

It has been quite a fortnight for the 28-year-old from the northern English city of Sheffield.

Willett was a doubtful starter at Augusta but the baby was delivered 12 days early, leaving the new father to get to work.

He planned to fly across the Atlantic on Tuesday, but manager Andrew “Chubby” Chandler talked him into coming on Monday, to have more than 48 hours to prepare.

Even so, he was the 89th and last player to check in, just as Jack Nicklaus was 89th when he won his sixth Masters in 1986.

Coincidence perhaps, and Willett recalled another sign of fate, revealing that his wife was in the womb when Sandy Lyle became the first British player to win the Masters in 1988.

Though he started the Masters ranked 12th in the world, it would be fair to say Willett was not the name on the tip of everyone’s tongue on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, or even for most of Sunday for that matter.

But in the space of less than an hour, he went from afterthought to champion-in-waiting. He even shed his white jacket on the 18th hole finishing his round off in his Masters-green shirt.

Though victory was almost a formality, he had to wait nearly an hour for it to become official. His first call was to Nicole.

“She just said ‘well done’. The line was a bit crackly,” he said.

Manager Chandler confidently predicted that Willett’s victory would open the floodgates, rather than be a career pinnacle, and that the player would soon feature prominently in any debate about who is the world’s best player.

“This is the start of the journey, not the end of the journey,” Chandler said. “Danny thought this was going to happen. His game is suited to all courses. He won’t be distracted.”

Chandler revealed a conversation with Willett when the player recently rose to 11th in the world ranking. He told his manager he still had 10 places to go.

Perhaps the only thing that could derail Willett is a chronically bad back.

“He’s got a terrible back,” Chandler said. “He goes to London every month to have a check.”

And Chandler said his client’s 2016 schedule, which includes the Olympic Games in Rio, would not change. He will also take out PGA Tour membership.

Willett will fly home on Monday night, but in the meantime there is celebrating to do.

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