Willett’s fortunes in lap of the Gods as McIlroy battles

Danny Willett of England, watches his drive on the fourth hole during the second round of the Masters. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Danny Willett of England, watches his drive on the fourth hole during the second round of the Masters. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
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Defending champion Danny Willett was left praying for some help from the “golfing gods” after suffering more misery on the opening hole at Augusta National in the 81st Masters.

Yorkshire’s Willett suffered a dreaded shank on the 445-yard par four on his way to a quadruple-bogey eight, having carded a double-bogey six there in his opening 73.

Lee Westwood, of England, hits from a bunker on the second hole during the second round of the Masters. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Lee Westwood, of England, hits from a bunker on the second hole during the second round of the Masters. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The 29-year-old also bogeyed the fourth, 11th and 18th in a second round of 78 to finish seven over par, a shot outside the projected cut and 11 behind clubhouse leaders Sergio Garcia and Charley Hoffman.

The top 50 players and ties, plus anyone within 10 of the lead, qualify for the last two rounds, with Canada’s Mike Weir the last defending champion to miss the cut in 2004.

“It’s been a tricky 12 months and we haven’t played great golf, but by the same token if you look at the career we’ve had, we’ve not really had a slump in form in two years,” said Willett.

“We’ve had two fabulous years and then you have a little bit of a downturn and it feels like the world is coming to an end.

“It would be nice if we can be given a little bit today by the golfing gods and it would just be nice to play Augusta again in front of the patrons. Playing Augusta at the weekend would be nice with the (good) weather coming in, but we had that in our own hands and unfortunately we let that slip.”

From an awkward stance on the edge of a fairway bunker on the first, Willett shanked his second shot into the trees, from where he executed a good escape shot which ran just off the left-hand side of the green.

His first chip then failed to climb a steep slope and rolled back down to his feet, while his next attempt was hit too hard and rolled across the putting surface and off the front of the green.

The world No 17 then chipped to six feet and two-putted for a demoralising eight, before dropping another shot by three-putting the fourth.

“If it goes in the bunker it’s not too bad, if it goes a foot right you can get a stance,” said Willett. “Where it finished wasn’t great and from there it was my own fault. I know you can’t miss there (left of the green).

“I played some pretty good golf in the middle there and couldn’t hole a bean.”

Hoffman could only add a 75 to his brilliant opening 65, with the last of his five bogeys in six holes allowing Garcia to briefly move into the outright lead.

Garcia had birdied the first three holes but dropped his first shot of the week on the fourth, before another bogey on the 10th was confusingly changed on the scoring system to a triple-bogey seven.

The mistake was eventually rectified by tournament officials and Garcia, who has 22 top-10 finishes in majors without a win, also bogeyed the 13th before picking up shots on the 15th and 17th in a 71.

Rory McIlroy added a 73 to his opening 72 after a stroke of bad luck on the 18th when his approach clattered into the pin and rebounded 20 yards off the green.

The four-time major winner, who needs to win the Masters to complete the career grand slam, hit a superb pitch to three feet but missed the par putt to leave himself five shots off the lead.

“It looked like it was going to be a tap-in birdie and I end up making five,” said McIlroy “It was two bad breaks because the wind then caught me out on the putt as well and made it go uphill.

“These things happen. I just have to birdie the first tomorrow and all will be forgotten.

“I feel I can put a 31 or 32 together a couple of times over the weekend and get closer to the leaders.

“Hopefully these are the toughest conditions we have played in and hopefully I can go a lot lower over the weekend.

“Even just being in position going into Sunday, I know more than most what can happen on Sundays around here, good and bad.

“I’ve shot 66 in the last round and I shot 80 (in 2011 when starting with a four-shot lead).”

McIlroy was second at the halfway stage 12 months ago before seeing his challenge falter with a 77 on Saturday, but he added: “Last year I was more in defence mode rather than attack.

“It’s a completely different mindset going out there to make birdies rather than not to make bogey.”