Danny Willett admits he despised golf as he suffered through his personal version of Groundhog Day but will enjoy battling it out for the DP World Tour Championship title, regardless of the result.
Former Masters champion Willett and current green jacket holder Patrick Reed share the lead on 14 under par heading into the final round of the season-ending event in Dubai, with Jordan Smith one shot behind at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Lee Westwood, who is seeking back-to-back wins following his victory in Sun City last week, is two shots off the lead alongside halfway leader Matt Wallace and South Africa’s Dean Burmester, with Rory McIlroy five adrift after a 71 which included a double-bogey on the 17th.
And with Tommy Fleetwood effectively conceding defeat to Ryder Cup partner Francesco Molinari in the battle to win the Race to Dubai, the stage is clear for a final-round shoot-out which could signal an emphatic end to Willett’s on-course struggles.
“It is very pleasing to see results out here and even at home when I practice I can see what is potentially around the corner,” Willett said after a third round of 68. “There were times when I was despising golf because it was like Groundhog Day; turn up, be in pain, miss the cut and repeat.
“When I met up with Foles (coach Sean Foley) at last year’s US PGA I was pretty low and open to trying anything and that from day onwards we’ve been on a good path and elongating a career that would have been disappointing to stop after five years because of being injured.”
Willett has not tasted victory since winning his first major title at Augusta in April 2016 and was outside the world’s top 450 earlier this season following numerous injuries and a loss of form.
But the 31-year-old from Sheffield has also shown signs of improvement with three top-10 finishes and said recently he no longer felt like golf’s version of “Humpty Dumpty.”
“It was a very, very dark place,” he added. “There was no light coming through the trees. Just a big stump in front of my ball. My main goal this year was not really a golfing goal, but body-wise.
“If I could finish the season healthier and fitter than I started the season, I would be somewhere near and that’s exactly what we’ve done. I’m not going to lie, it would be an amazing thing to win, but regardless of what happens, just looking more in the long-term of my career, really, is pretty good.”
Reed shrugged off an indifferent warm-up and stiff back to card a five-under-par 67 as he looks to end the season on a high with his first win since making his own major breakthrough at Augusta.
“With the limited schedule that I play over here on the European Tour, to have a chance to go out and finish the year off right and win a golf tournament, give myself a little early Christmas gift of a trophy, would be amazing,” Reed said.
Fleetwood admitted his chances of lifting the trophy had disappeared with a lifeless 74 which left him just a shot ahead of Molinari but, more significantly, eight strokes behind Willett and Reed on a densely-packed leaderboard.
“Today pretty much summed up the second half of the season,” said Fleetwood, who needs to win the title to have any chance of overhauling Molinari on the money list. “I’ve done plenty of good stuff in tournaments and then had days like today.
“At the end of the day it’s just golf, but it does hurt when you have days like that. I feel the adrenaline might have gone now. I think you kind of know when your time’s up. I lasted within two days of the (end of the) season and like I’ve said, it was always a stretch trying to win it.”