Eagle is highlight of Willett debut at Augusta

Danny Willett plays his third shot from the first fairway at Augusta yesterday (Picture: Chris Carlson/AP).
Danny Willett plays his third shot from the first fairway at Augusta yesterday (Picture: Chris Carlson/AP).
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The 13th hole at Augusta is one of the most famous in all of golf.

Known as Azalea, it doglegs left around the pine trees, skirting the hazard that is Rae’s Creek before opening out into a vast expanse of lush green fairway.

From there, a golfer is challenged to either take on the big green over the creek as it wraps around the front of the green, or lay up and settle for a birdie chance at best.

It is the consumate risk-reward hole, and in Masters gone by has produced a host of moments that helped the shotmaker lay claim to the green jacket.

In 2010, Phil Mickelson struck a crushing blow from the pine needles at the top of the hill that flew onto the green, lifting the American and breaking the challenge of Worksop’s Lee Westwood in one fell swoop.

Just last year, Bubba Watson reduced a hole that 25 years ago Nick Faldo was approaching with a one-iron into a driver-wedge combination with a tee shot that arced over the trees and flew some 400 yards towards the hole to set up a simple approach.

Perhaps not as famously, there was an outrageous shot played on the 13th green yesterday by Sheffield’s Danny Willett.

The 27-year-old Yorkshireman, making his first appearance at the Masters, stood over a 64-foot eagle putt from the top of the bank that, if judged incorrectly, could have rolled all the way down into the creek.

Sending it on its way, Willett stalked the ball hoping it would ease up once it hit the top of the bank but it started gathering pace.

Luckily for him, the ball caught the left lip and dropped into the cup.

Had it not – well, it would have completely changed the complexion of his round.

As it was, an unlikely eagle putt that reduced Willett to raucous laughter was symptomatic of an eventful first round at Augusta for the current Race to Dubai leader.

He profited on the par fives, birdieing the second and the eighth to complement his eagle on 13.

That opening birdie came after a bogey on the first and showed his willingness not to let a poor start affect him. The world No 51 also bogeyed the long par-four 11th at the start of Amen Corner, which left him level par approaching the 13th.

His eagle three on his scorecard there moved him to two under par and to within two shots of the lead.

Willett quickly gave a stroke back at the par-four 14th, as he did at the par-four 17th after making a two at the picturesque par-three 16th.

All in all it was an enjoyable baptism to what he hopes will be a long Augusta career.

Willett tweeted: “Nice first day!! Some lovely golf out there and a bit up n down on the greens!! “Nothing better than a cheeky 60 footer!! Boom!!”

Willett admitted it was a dream come true to mark his Masters debut with an eagle and an opening round of 71 at Augusta National.

Willett’s eagle on the par-five 13th is an achievement which is traditionally rewarded with a pair of crystal glasses. “It’s the kind of thing you dream of when you’re a kid, boxing a long one across the green,” said Willett, who had been unhappy with his approach to the green.

“Anywhere on that green you know it’s going to be a stupidly breaking putt.

“But the ball is up somewhere near your kneecaps when you are hitting the second shot so it’s always hard to hit a fade into a back right flag.

“It had 18 feet of break, it comes almost backwards.”

Willett, who qualified by being in the world’s top 50 at the end of last season following his victory in the Nedbank Challenge, was in the second group out at 7.56am local time (12.56 BST).

And the 27-year-old felt he benefited from ideal conditions and the experience of playing with 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize, as well as amateur Byron Meth.

“It really helped playing with Larry,” Willett added. “He won it in 1987 which is the year I was born so we were having a bit of a joke down the first. He was brilliant all day and kept trying to egg me and Byron on. He helped settle the nerves quite quickly.

“The first tee was awesome and second off there were 
already 20,000 or 30,000 people round the golf course. Every shot you hit and every tee you walked on you’re getting clapped on to. It was really special.

“I feel like I should be here but you’re not trying to put too much pressure on yourself. To be here for all four days first time out would be nice.

“It’s one of those courses where the more you play it the better your chances are of getting it round. For a first time out we did pretty good.”