That Danny Willett cracked his driver at the end of his opening round Friday morning in the 84th Masters, and then shot a second-round six-under 66 later in the day without it, has to deliver some kind of message, doesn’t it?
Actually, it delivers two.
The first being where you hit it is clearly more important than how far.
The second is that Willett, the 2016 Masters winner, has to be considered a legitimate threat for a second victory at Augusta National despite his play this year and, furthermore, despite a string of poor Masters appearances after his head-turning win over Jordan Spieth four years ago.
“Real nice show today, especially after that start, to fight back to be playing the weekend here, which is a place that’s real close to my heart,” said Willett, 33, who completed an opening 71 Friday morning, his first round under par at Augusta since his closing 67 to win the green jacket in 2016. He had missed the cut in each of the three years since his victory.
His recent play hasn’t been that great, either, posting just one top-10 finish worldwide during an abbreviated season. Furthermore, he withdrew from last week’s Vivint Houston Open after shooting 77, citing a wrist injury, which thankfully for him appears to have been only a minor nuisance that improved with ice.
But now the Englishman is playing with confidence, and has joined countrymen Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood in contention, just two back of the leaders when darkness stopped play Friday afternoon. And he did it in peculiar fashion given all the pre-tournament talk about bomb and grouse.
Willett said he cracked the face of his driver, which he figured was at least three years old, on the 17th hole earlier in the day, and although he had a replacement, he opted not to put it in the bag.
“I’ve got a spare head, but it wasn’t as good, so we just thought we took the decision out and didn’t even put it in the bag for the second round,” he said, estimating that he was giving up around 30 yards off the tee with his 3-wood.
“It’s nice to see everyone 340 out there and we’re hitting 3‑wood,” Willett said. “But this golf course I play quite a lot of 3‑woods around here anyway. Always have. This place for me has always been a second‑shot golf course, and especially with how receptive some of these smaller tiers are, it kind of made it a little bit easier. You’re coming in with 6‑iron instead of 8‑iron, your ball is still going to stop on the green, whereas in years gone past, that would have been a real big disadvantage.”
Easier? With a 3-wood? Hey, stop messing up the narrative.
But it obviously was easier. After suffering a double-bogey at the par-4 10th hole to open the second round, Willett converted six birdies and an eagle, that coming at the par-5 13th hole when he brushed in a three-footer. His 66 was a career low at Augusta – and just his second round in the 60s.
According to the statistics, Willett gave up only nine yards with his 3-wood from the first round, averaging 279 off the tee in Round 2 – but that was on measured holes. No telling how much he gave around the rest of the course. But he found eight fairways, two more than in the first round, and he hit 15 greens in regulation, an improvement of four from the opening round.
So, again, who needs to hit bombs if you can ball strike it like a boss?
Willett wasn’t sure if he’d put a driver in play for Saturday’s third round. He was considering keeping the same game plan. It would be hard to argue against that.
“We’re going to have a little look,” Willett said about testing drivers on the range Friday afternoon, “but I’m pretty happy that if it’s not something that really, really stands out, we’ll end up just playing as we have done today. It’s one of those you feel more comfortable with the 3‑wood that we’ve used for a long time now, and you put a better swing on it if you’re not sure about a driver. It’s maybe not worth it, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”