Danny Willett looks to lick Ryder Cup wounds at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship
Masters Champion joins Martin Kaymer along with Hazeltine rookie sensation Thomas Pieters in teeing up in the Dunhill Championship on Thursday
For six members of the defeated European Ryder Cup side it is back to ‘business as usual’ this week in Scotland, the ‘home of golf’.
US Masters Champion Danny Willett joins double major-winner Martin Kaymer along with Hazeltine rookie sensation Thomas Pieters plus Spain’s Rafa Cabrera-Bello and the England pair of Lee Westwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick in teeing up in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship starting Thursday
This year marks the 16th anniversary of the pro-amateur tournament format played over three courses in the east of Scotland – the Old Course at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.
Willett, still bitterly disappointed at the “personal” abuse he received during Europe’s 17-11 loss away to the United States in the Ryder Cup, will be looking to extend his lead over absent Hazeltine team-mates Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy for the season-ending Race to Dubai title.
Willett is currently some €413,000 (HK$3.59 million) ahead of Stenson while McIlroy is a further €643,000 adrift of the leader.
“I went so close to winning the Race to Dubai last year but then Rory played superbly over the weekend out there in Dubai to go past me,” said Willett.
“So that’s the goal this season to go that one place better and win the Race to Dubai.”
Willett also has fond memories of being fourth in last year’s Dunhill event which came just months after his share of sixth place in the British Open at St Andrews – where he will play two rounds this week.
“My sixth in The Open here at St Andrews a year ago was my then best finish in a major and pretty much gave me the confidence of what then took place this year at the Masters,” he said.
Willett, however, is sure not to have it all his own way this week as Hazeltine colleagues Kaymer and Westwood are former event winners, along with South African Branden Grace who posted a round of 60 at Kingsbarns en route to success in 2012.
Grace revealed he spent last week “glued” to watching TV coverage of the Ryder Cup and hoping, that as a likely member of the 2017 International Presidents Cup side, to finally turn the tables on the United States next September at the Liberty National course in New Jersey.
Unlike the European Ryder Cup team, the International Presidents Cup side has won just one of the 11 biennial encounters – the third staging of the event in 1998 in Australia – and has lost the past six editions from 2005 to 2015.
“As an International player, you never like seeing the Americans win,” said world number 14 Grace. “They keep winning the Presidents Cup but we’re getting closer.
“But I have to say I was glued to the TV every night watching the Ryder Cup though at the end of day the better team won.
“Those guys, they played magnificent golf and what Sergio (Garcia) and (Phil) Mickelson did on Sunday (in a birdie strewn halved singles encounter), it’s phenomenal.
“That’s what the Ryder Cup is about and if you ever get in that position and get into that team, there’s just no feeling like it.
“A major is something but the pressure in a Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup is so much bigger than a major.”