Danny Willett’s struggles after scaling the major championship mountain in 2016 are well-documented but now he’s back to his best, he can look forward to a Sunday in contention at The Open.
More than anyone else in the field, Willett made the most of moving day at Royal Portrush, shooting a Championship equal-best round of 65 to climb to -7 overall.
His scorecard was flawless, recording no bogeys and six birdies, which came on the 3rd, a chip-in from the rough at 5, the 8th, the 10th – following an incredibly fortuitous sideways bounce for his approach – the 12th and the 17th.
He had a makeable putt on the 18th for a 64, only to see his effort slide just wide, but that disappointment was counter-acted by an almost unbelievable par-save from the bunker at the 1st.
The last 12 months have seen a welcome return to form for the 31-year-old Englishman – who memorably won the Masters in 2016 but then dropped as low as 462 in the world rankings – as he finished T-24 at The Open last summer, won the World Tour Championship in November and then came 12that last month’s US Open.
But victory at Royal Portrush would be his crowning glory and he sees no reason why he can’t be lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday.
Sunlight at the end of the tunnel
“Everything is going well. I'm moving well,” said Willett. “I’m in a really good place – I've said it for the best part of 12 months now, the results aren't always as you want them to be but the work I'm putting in is good.
“Things are inevitable as to when you're going to win again. It might be this week, next week, six months down the line, you don't know. But there's enough good in there to do it again, which is a nice feeling. It gives you that little bit of sunlight at the end of it.
“It was pretty stellar in the conditions. I had it relatively windy for most of the day but the ball was under good control. I had a lot of chances but it's never not fun to shoot 65 on a Saturday at The Open.”
Enjoying the moment
As anyone who has ever picked up a club will know, golf can easily lose its fun when you’re struggling with your game.
But now he’s playing well, Willett is enjoying the experience again and believes staying even-keeled is helping bring out his best.
“I'm 31 years old and I've done what most people wish to do in a career already,” he added. “If you can't be relaxed playing early on a Saturday morning. I'm probably more nervous playing with the lads because I need to be on my own.
“It's one of those where the juices are flowing and you're trying to hit as good golf shots as you can.
“I've done a lot of work over the last few years on my breathing. The more tense you get, the worse your breathing gets. The worse your breathing gets, the worse you're going to move. It just has an effect. And stress is a big part of that.
“When I was at my worst, that was one of the main factors. And now you can keep yourself relaxed and kind of go about things in a business-like manner but you might as well have fun doing it.”