Masters champion Danny Willett believes he is close to rediscovering his best form after an encouraging first round in the £5.7m Turkish Airlines Open.
Willett, who needs to finish outright fifth or better in Antalya to regain top spot in the Race to Dubai, carded a two-under-par 69 at Regnum Carya Golf and Spa Resort to end the day five shots behind South Africa’s George Coetzee.
The 29-year-old had led the money list since claiming his first major title at Augusta in April, but suffered what he described as the worst week of his career last week to be overtaken by Open champion Henrik Stenson.
Stenson was joint-second in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai as Willett finished 14 over par and 75th in the 78-man field, turning the Swede’s deficit of more than 400,000 points into a lead of 261,387.
Both men will play in next week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City and the season finale in Dubai, by which time the absent Rory McIlroy could be ruled out of contention for a third straight Race to Dubai title.
“I hit some great iron shots but am still struggling for consistency with the ball flight off the tee that cost me a few silly shots,” said Willett, who carded six birdies yesterday but double-bogeyed the 10th after finding water off the tee.
“It’s a lot better than it has been and it’s a lot more positive. To be honest after the last few weeks anything would have been good, but things are going in the right direction and my best is not far off.
“Last week I could have quite happily not played the last three rounds after the start we had. I could not see things going correctly.
“But we’re working hard, doing everything right and that’s all you can do in this game. We have three weeks to try and do something special and I need to make some headway this week.
“It would be nice to make it almost a match-play scenario in Dubai which might make it a bit easier, especially if you are playing together.”
Coetzee, who was among those to gain a place in the field following a spate of withdrawals over security concerns – including world No 2 Rory McIlroy – made the most of his chance with eight birdies and a solitary bogey in an opening 64.
That gave the world No 160 a one-shot lead over Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen.
Lee Westwood had threatened to post something similar when he raced to the turn in 30, but the 43-year-old came home in 40 to finish one under.
“It wasn’t a tale of two halves, it was a tale of hitting it awful on the range and awful for all 18 holes,” said Westwood. “It was an absolute embarrassment from tee to green.”
On the greens, Westwood has been working with former snooker professional turned sports psychologist Chris Henry since the Ryder Cup, where he missed a number of crucial putts and lost all three matches in Europe’s 17-11 defeat.
“I’m working on my routine and the mental side and on focusing better,” added Westwood. “I’m also trying to take between six to eight seconds on putts, which is way better than 15, 16 seconds stood over it.”
England’s Georgia Hall carded a course-record 64 to surge into contention in the inaugural Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open in Abu Dhabi. Hall fired eight birdies in a flawless round at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club to finish 10 under par, three shots behind Olafia Kristinsdottir.