Golf

Danny Willett hoping Augusta return sparks an upturn in form

Defending champion Danny Willett hits a shot on the driving range at Augusta yesterday ahead of the defence of his Masters title, which starts tomorrow Picture: PA

Danny Willett admits even a return to the scene of his Masters triumph may not inspire an instant change in fortunes as he tries to scale Everest for a second time.

Willett became the first English winner of a Green Jacket for 20 years with his dramatic victory at Augusta National 12 months ago, taking advantage of defending champion Jordan Spieth's collapse with a flawless final round of 67.

The 29-year-old also finished third in the BMW PGA Championship and second in the Italian Open, but was struggling for form by the time of his Ryder Cup debut and failed to win a single point, albeit not helped by his brother's controversial article about American fans.

So far in 2017 Willett has failed to convert a three-shot 54-hole lead in Malaysia, finished 69th in the 77-man field in the WGC-Mexico Championship and failed to reach the knockout stages of the WGC-Match Play in Austin.

"Coming back here Saturday, we drove down Magnolia Lane and we came and just walked nine holes and hit a few shots and it was really nice," Willett said yesterday.

"It was calm and there was maybe 20 members and a couple of pros playing. We dropped a few balls down where we hit the chip on 17 (in the final round) and a couple (of) other shots that we hit.

"You do have a spring in your step, but you can't change your game like that just because you come in and you feel better about it. You've still got to work hard and you've still got to make good golf swings.

"There is more pressure as a Major champion. You've achieved the greatest height in your game. You have got to the pinnacle. You've climbed Everest and you've put your flag in. Unfortunately, you've got to either climb down or stay up there, and it's incredibly difficult to stay up there all the time.

"The pressure has been more from myself. It's not a nice feeling to not hit good golf shots when you know what you can do. I think the last 12 months has made me a little more impatient.

"I think achieving what I achieved last year and performing under the pressure that I did on Sunday, if you don't do that every time, you get a bit annoyed.

"That's where the game jumps up and bites you. It's not that easy. You can't just do it week-in and week-out. There's a few men that have been able to do it over the years, but they are few and far between."

Willett was the 89th and last player to register for the Masters last year, only arriving on the Monday evening after spending time with his wife Nicole following the birth of their first child days earlier.

This year he estimates he was about the 15th player to arrive, but as defending champion the players' badge bearing the number one is reserved for him – even if he still has to share a locker.

"I'm sharing with Woosie (1991 champion Ian Woosnam)," Willett revealed.

"It's funny, I saw him on the golf course the other day and he said it's been a shame, he's had a nice clean locker for however many years and now it's full of other stuff in there.

"I had a little walk around the Champions Locker Room to see the names and the years that they won. It's a pretty cool place to be."

As defending champion, Willett also got to choose a Yorkshire-themed menu for the Champions' Dinner last night, where he toasted three-time winner and former honorary starter Arnold Palmer, who died last year.

"To not have him here, it's going to be a sad week," Willett added.

"I think there's going to be a lot of tributes on and around the golf course and my way of doing it was just keep it simple and let's just toast with Arnie's favourite drink (Ketel One vodka). I think that will go down quite nicely."

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