Former Masters champion Danny Willett hailed a “fairytale” first European Tour victory on home soil after overcoming Spain’s Jon Rahm in a final-round duel at the BMW PGA Championship.
Willett carded a closing 67 at Wentworth to finish 20 under par, three shots ahead of fellow overnight leader Rahm, with South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout a shot further back.
Americans Billy Horschel and Patrick Reed finished joint fourth on 15 under par, with Scotland’s Richie Ramsay securing his playing rights for next season thanks to a tie for sixth alongside Rafa Cabrera Bello on 13 under.
After missing the cut at Wentworth last May, Willett was ranked 462nd in the world as he struggled with a loss of form precipitated by a number of injuries. He will be just outside the top 30 when the rankings are updated on Monday and top of the Ryder Cup qualifying standings after the first event.
“There were some dark places and we were in a bit of turmoil,” Willett admitted. “We have reworked everything with everyone at home helping out and it’s extra special when you are then able to produce special things.
“This week has been one of those fairytales to win on home soil. I’ve been close at the Open and had a couple of good chances here before and the crowd weren’t going to let me throw it away.
“That’s now my seventh win on Tour and every single time I’ve won they have been pretty stellar events against pretty stellar fields. Obviously there’s going to be a lot of questions around the Ryder Cup – I might be the guy that plays every Ryder Cup away from home, which will be great fun for me.”
That was a reference to Willett’s nightmare debut at Hazeltine in 2016, when he lost all three matches in a week marred by the publication of an article written by his brother Peter which described American Ryder Cup fans as a “braying mob of imbeciles”.
The crowds at Wentworth were clearly far more friendly and four birdies in the first 10 holes gave Willett a two-shot lead which he looked set to surrender on the 11th, where he followed a wild drive by hitting a tree with his recovery shot and then gouging his third shot out of the heather into a bunker.
Willett hurt his right wrist in the process and later took painkillers on the course but, after finding the green with his fourth, holed from 40 feet to drop just one shot.
Rahm bogeyed the 12th after misjudging his pitch to the green and seeing the ball roll back towards him, but the Ryder Cup star bounced back immediately to birdie the next.
However, after debating which club to hit on the par-three 14th, Rahm chose the wrong option to come up short of the green in a bunker and was unable to get up and down for par.
Willett’s birdie on the 17th effectively sealed victory and any lingering doubt about the result was removed when Rahm found the water short of the green with his approach.
“I’m not going to lie. It hurts, it stings,” Rahm said. “I played good all week and, up until the 13th hole, I was incapable of hitting an iron close to the pin and made a couple of stupid mistakes. I’m just going to have to figure out why it happened and that’s it.
“At the same time, Danny played amazing golf. I believe that 11th hole was the key moment. He had a long, long putt for bogey and I had a decent look for a birdie and he makes a bomb for a bogey and I missed my putt.”
World number two Rory McIlroy, who made the cut with nothing to spare, added a 67 to his third round of 65 to finish in a tie for ninth, his 16th top 10 in 21 events this season.