That was Willett’s 20th top ten finish on The European Tour, and many predicted he would soon be operating in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking, only for a back injury picked up in Dubai at the start of the season to check his progress this season.
After two top five finishes in South Africa, Willett missed nearly three months of action before making the cut at Wentworth Club – only for discomfort to force him out of attempting to qualify for the US Open. The pain also contributed to a below-par showing in Sweden, but the World Number 111 is confident the worst is now behind him.“I have been looking forward to it,” Willett said ahead of his first title defence.
“I've had the back problem, so I've been trying to make sure the back is good and strong, especially for this one, so I'm happy to come back.“The win was nice. I played well.
"I'd been in contention a few times before winning. It wasn't easy conditions, so I hit a few iffy shots down the stretch last year but eventually came through. It just gives you a bit of confidence that you don't have to do everything perfectly and you can still win. All you have to do is keep yourself in there close enough to have a chance on the back nine on Sunday, and hopefully you'll do a little better than everybody else.“I had an MRI a couple of weeks ago and last week to check out how the progress is, and it showed a couple of different things. I just need a bit of hard work and a bit of rest and physio - it's a long process but it's getting on.
“It's strange, every time I started playing well and got myself in good position to break into the top 50, I've had a bit of a niggle. I finished second at the Dunhill (Alfred Dunhill Links Championship) a few years ago when Martin [Kaymer] won, and then I got a bone fracture in my rib, which put me out the rest of the year after that. And then this time, after winning and having a good season last year, I was trying to push hard at the beginning of this season, and the injury just pushed me back a little bit. So hopefully, touch wood, we can just keep moving it on and hopefully it doesn't come back.
“Hopefully I can play some more golf, and like I said, keep on top of it and just get back into it, travelling around again and monitoring myself. Hopefully I can get the ball around this week and play nicely, hit some proper golf shots, and not have to take any painkillers or have discomfort.”
The tournament has returned to Munich for its 25th anniversary, but Willett has no qualms about defending on a course very different from that which he conquered.
“They are very, very different,” he added. “It all depends on the weather. The course has been really wet. But I think if it's flat calm here, the scoring is going to be a bit lower around this place.
“There are a few more chances. Obviously the weather is going to play a big factor; if it stays hot all week, it's going to be a gruelling test out there for four days. It's a great golf course, and obviously Munich itself is a fantastic city for the 25th anniversary. It's a great place.
“Germany is always a good place to play golf. I like the fact that when there's a golf tournament on, you get a lot of people coming out to the event and again here - it's a Wednesday and you've got a few people out here watching.
“I've already seen quite a few guys wandering around watching Marcel [Siem]. There is a different buzz. I've always said BMW puts on a great event wherever it is across the world, but it always feels a little extra special. Twenty-five years for this event is fantastic. I think come tomorrow morning, it's going to be really good.”While Willett’s rise may have been dealt a temporary setback over the last few months, Justin Rose’s emotional US Open Championship victory showed the Yorkshireman what can be achieved.
Rose saw off plenty of problems at the start of his career – notably a string of 21 missed cuts after turning professional – before winning his first Major Championship at Merion, and Willett drew plenty of inspiration from his compatriot’s achievements.
“It's fantastic,” Willett continued. “I watch every Major. He just played the best golf on Sunday - it was good to see. He held his nerve and he hit some great shots under pressure down the last four or five holes.
“You do draw a little bit of inspiration. Justin obviously came through the English ranks. If you can keep trying to chase down the top English guys, you're not going to be far off.”