It is only two years since the 30-year-old Yorkshireman was winning a major championship of his own when triumphing at the 2016 Masters.
But such has been his fall from grace with injuries and a loss of form that his career high had felt like a long time ago.
So the fact he was involved in the weekend, starting Sunday’s fourth round just six shots off the lead and closing to within four strokes at one stage, felt like a significant step in the right direction.
“The game is definitely on a path that is a lot better than where it was,” said Willett, whose finish in a tie for 24th after weekend rounds of 70 73 builds on 19th- and sixth-place finishes in the preceeding weeks.
“It’s nice to come off disappointed, in 24th position in a major, whereas a year ago that would have been a really nice finish. It just says the state of where we are at is a lot better.
“It was nice to get another four rounds under the belt in a major, against some of the best players in the world. We’ve not been here for a long time so it was nice to get back and get the juices flowing and hit some good golf shots.”
Five Yorkshire players set off today in the hope of walking in Willett’s footsteps by claiming the Walton Heath Trophy, formerly known as the South of England amateur, with Willett winning it in 2007.
Former Yorkshire champion Ben Hutchinson (Howley Hall), David Houlding (Moortown), Dan Bradbury (Wakefield), Sam Bairstow (Hallowes) and Josh Morton (Huddersfield) will contest the 72-hole event for the Michael Lunt Trophy.