BMW International Open
June 24th 2012, Cologne, Germany: After 19 top-ten finishes Danny Willett finally claimed his first European Tour title with a nail-biting play-off victory over Marcus Fraser.
Conditions in Cologne may have been wet and windy for the final round, but there was nothing dull about the golf on an absorbing day at Gut Lärchenhof.
In the end Willett required a four-hole play-off down the testing 18th to shake off Fraser, after a final round 73 left him level with the former Ballantine’s Championship winner.
“It’s amazing,” said the former Walker Cup star. “It was a tough day - it was brutal with the wind whipping and it was raining.
“Marcus had a great round today and I hung in there nicely. Hopefully I gave people a good show.
“This week has been strange, I’ve been working really hard with support from my family and my girlfriend. I’ve had some ups and downs in the last 18 months as everyone knows but I’m injury free now and back to playing well and I’d like to thank everyone back home for supporting me.
“I’ll keep working hard and hopefully we can do it again.”
Overnight leader Willett was caught by Fraser and home favourite Marcel Siem early in the day, but responded with a couple of birdies at the third and fourth as his nearest challengers struggled around the turn.
But the 24 year old from England drifted back towards the pack with bogeys at the ninth, 11th and 15th in wet and windy conditions, and Fraser got his nose in front with a birdie at the 16th.
The two-time European Tour winner from Australia found trouble at the last, however, and did well to rescue a bogey and set the clubhouse target at 11 under.
Willett needed two pars to force a play-off at that stage, and that appeared unlikely when he drove down the right at the 18th and the ball bounced off a cart path and behind a tree.
But the former Alfred Dunhill Links runner-up swung a remarkable long hooked iron onto the green, and although he left his first putt from 25 feet well short, he converted a four footer for par to force extra holes.
Fraser was 15 feet away in three at the first extra hole but made it to force another trip down the 18th.
When Willett chipped to five feet and Fraser left his effort 20 feet short and missed the par putt it looked like game over, but Willett’s putt somehow stayed up, and so the players returned to the tee.
Both players converted five footers at the third time of asking, and on their fourth visit Willett almost ran a flop from the rough in for birdie and Fraser’s 25 foot putt lipped out.
But Fraser missed his return from three feet, leaving Willett to tap in for victory.
“This is my fourth year on Tour now,” added Willett. “I've had a lot of good finishes, been in contention a couple of times, obviously with Kaymer at the Dunhill a few years back. To polish it off, it feels good.
“Ideally I would have won earlier but probably winning a bit later on now, it gives me a little bit more to think about and I’m probably a little bit more mature now than I was when I first came on Tour. It would have been good to win a few years ago, but a win is a win.
“The guys out here are brilliant. They play week in, week out, and it's competitive. I'm just thankful for finally winning one.”
Although delighted to win, Willett revealed he didn’t have time at this stage of the season for any wild celebrations.
“I'm going to get on the first plane I can and get down to Sunningdale and try to qualify for The Open tomorrow,” he continued.
“I've still got 36 holes tomorrow for The Open, the Irish Open, the French Open, The Scottish Open. I've got a good run. I can't think of a better way to start my run off, but there's still a lot of golf left for the rest of the season.”
Earlier Willett had knocked in a five footer at the third and struck a precise tee shot to five feet at the short fourth to double his one shot overnight lead.
Siem had begun the final round with a hattrick of birdies, but came unstuck approaching the turn.
The 31 year old from Mettmann – less than an hour’s drive from Gut Lärchenhof – holed an eight footer at the first, a 30 foot putt at the second and chipped to two feet at the long third.
But after three straight pars he went in the hazard twice at the short seventh and ran up a triple bogey six before going in the water again on the eighth and bogeying.
Australian Fraser was also in the water there and bogeyed, having began well with an approach to five feet at the first and two-putt birdie at the third.
Willett’s par putt lipped out at the ninth as he turned in 35, but Fraser also bogeyed there so he was still two clear.
Fraser, looking for his third European Tour title, halved the deficit again with a brilliant 50 foot putt at the 12th, but the Australian was left to rue straying down the right on the 18th in regulation as he took three to reach the green.
“It was good fun,” said the 33 year old. “Danny is such a great guy and he's an awesome player - it's the first of many tournaments for him, that's for sure. It was nice to have a chance but unfortunately I couldn't do it.
“If I keep giving myself chances, one day it might happen eventually. But as I said before, he's a great player and he's going to be a future star on The European Tour, there's no question about it.
“I've got to be pleased with the week. I played really well, three out of the four days and managed to make a few putts. It's just the way this game goes sometimes, you have to take it on the chin and get ready for the next week.”
Paul McGinley recovered brilliantly from his disappointing third round 77 with a 66 to share third place with England’s Chris Wood and Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño on ten under, while Siem fought back brilliantly only to three-putt the last and finish alongside Henrik Stenson on nine under.
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