Out of the 'pitch black' – Willett sees the Open lightJuly 19, 2018 Golf News
The former Masters champion has endured some tough times in the last couple of years. But, as Steve Carroll saw at Carnoustie, things are definitely looking up
Far from the madding crowd, where rows seven and eight deep crane to catch a glimpse of Jordan Spieth, tales of redemption can be found at this Open.
There will not be a clearer view at Carnoustie this week than the tumbling plains that greeted Danny Willett as he stood on the 16th tee.
What was amazing about the paucity of support was that he was second on the leaderboard at the time.
The Englishman, though, has become used to being invisible.
Willett has been an endangered species since winning at Augusta two years ago.
Such was the concern for the lesser-spotted major winner’s career, you could have launched a tearful charity appeal on the back of some of his performances.
His problems – especially with injury – are well known. But there have been signs over the past few weeks that the 31-year-old’s star is rising again.
An opening round of 69 at Carnoustie has shown that this is not just hope talking.
Forget the closing two bogeys, although Willett might not in a hurry – smarting about the dropped shots after finding greenside bunkers on both holes.
Anyone can make mistakes, even on a tough Open course that will surely won’t be this welcoming again.
What really struck those of us who ventured out to watch the Rotherham native was the quality of his irons – crisply hit, and with the easy but powerful rhythm that made him a darling of the European Tour.
The tide appears to have turned.
“How dark were those times?” Willett was asked in front of a media ‘scrum’ he admitted he hadn’t seen for some time.
“Pitch black,” he replied in a heartbeat. “It wasn’t good for a while, but that’s kind of the situation we were in. We’re fighting, swinging it a bit on and off, and the body was being really uncooperative.”
Willett mused: “I’m pretty hopeful we’ll never be in as dark as place as we were. I’ve really enjoyed golf the last six or seven weeks.
“Even getting the clubs out and going to play at home without having to do two hours of warm up and go and see the physio.
“You just hit it around the golf course for nine holes and hit it pretty good and feel pretty good.
“That kind of just leads you to work a little bit harder, even if it’s just an extra half an hour of putting and an extra half an hour hitting balls.
“It’s the little sessions you’re able to do for a bit longer before your body is better and just enables you to gain a little more than you ordinarily would have.”
Even so, there’s still a tightrope to be walked. One shot yesterday, where Willett ‘got into the grass a little bit’, led to an evening of rest and ice on a shoulder.
There are still ‘things here and there’ even if the brunt of his problems are finally behind him.
Such ‘things’ should provide perspective. Not to get too high when you find a trio of successive birdies – as he did from the 4th to the 6th – or too low when those late bogeys turned a great round into just a good one.
That’s not Willett, though, and it’s an attitude that may see him return to the game’s summit.
“Perspective is good but you still get annoyed. You still want to make everything and do everything. You should remember the times that were terrible and go ‘well that’s not too bad’.
“Unfortunately, we’re not like that. We just keep trying to move forward and keep trying to strive for better things. It’s definitely nice to be stood here after shooting a relatively stress-free 69.”