Masters champ Danny Willett still struggling with weight of major expectations

Danny Willett

Masters champ Danny Willett still struggling with weight of major expectations

PGA Tour

Masters champ Danny Willett still struggling with weight of major expectations

Danny Willett hasn’t given his fans much of hope of a Masters repeat ahead of the year’s first major.

Willett was in good form heading into Augusta last year. He’d won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and finished third in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. His best finish this year is fifth in the Maybank Championship, an average-strength European Tour event.

“Our run of form has been nowhere near where it was last year,” he admitted via a teleconference from Bay Hill where he’s competing in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Willett began the year by missing the cut in Abu Dhabi, despite a lot of hard work beforehand. He was T-54 in defending his Dubai title. He was 69th in Mexico out of the 77-man field. He missed the cut in the Honda Classic. So far this year his scoring average is 71.68, which is greatly helped by three excellent rounds in the Maybank Championship. 

Arnold Palmer Invitational 2017 Tee Times Fantasy Rankings

It’s hardly the sort of scoring that points to a successful defense at Augusta.

“I’ve had some ups and downs the past 12 months,” Willett admitted. “It’s been a great year and we’re trying to press on. We’ve worked really hard on the game and we’re trying to get back there.”

Willett seems to be living with the weight of expectation thrust upon him by last year’s surprise victory.

“Getting the confidence back has been a bit tricky. We didn’t play well towards the back end of last season, but a lot of that was because we didn’t get the time off in the middle of the year that we wanted.”

To be fair, Willett and his wife gave birth to their first child last year. The difficulties of playing dad and honoring new commitments as a major winner took its toll.

“The game wasn’t where I wanted it to be, and being tired you can get frustrated a little bit easier,” Willett said. “That leads you to hit more balls, practice harder, but in actual fact all that does at times is make you more tired.” 

Willett had won four times before his Masters victory, but even he admits landing one of the game’s first majors wasn’t easy to deal with. 

“I don’t think anyone can ever be fully prepared for it. For us it has been quite fresh and it’s been a bit of a different experience. It is tricky.

“People put expectations on you, just as you do yourself. You win one of the best golf tournaments in the world and you feel like you should do that every week. Unfortunately, this isn’t a game you can do that. You look at Tiger, and I think he had a 35-percent win record in his decade of dominance and even that is unheard of. If I’m going to compare every week to that week then I’m going to be disappointed because you can’t recreate that week.” 

The good news for Willett is that others might take the pressure off him going into this Masters. Dustin Johnson has moved to number one. Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia, Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama have all won this year. That might be good news for only the second Englishman after Nick Faldo to slip on a green jacket.

“In terms of going under the radar, I think it probably will be like last year even as defending champion. Our run of form has been nowhere near what it was last year and nowhere near some of the other guys who are playing. I might slip under the radar which would be quite nice so we can do our own work and hopefully let the result take its course.”

The result took its course last year. It will be interesting to see how Willett responds this season.

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