Former Masters champion Danny Willett feels he “fits in more” with the greats of the game at Augusta National as he attempts to win a second green jacket.
Willett was ranked ninth in the world after winning his maiden major title in April 2016, but had slumped outside the world’s top 450 in May last year after struggling with injuries and a subsequent loss of form.
The 31-year-old’s decline had already started by the time he became the first defending champion to miss the cut in the Masters since 2004, his second round of 78 in 2017 starting with a demoralising quadruple-bogey eight on the first.
In 2018 he also made an early exit after rounds of 75 and 76, but made the trip to Georgia in far better spirits this year after November’s victory in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
“Everything’s better,” Willett told Press Association Sport. “The mind’s a lot calmer and quieter because we’ve been able to do the work because the body’s been better.
“It’s allowed us to do more of what we need to do, rather than chasing your tail doing bits here, there and everywhere. We’ve actually been able to do the things we want to do and prepare OK.
“You want to come here with your A game, everyone does. We’re not quite there yet but I’m coming here a hell of a lot happier than I have done in the last two years.
“That enables you to enjoy nights like the Champions Dinner, enjoy sitting round with the guys. You’re sat there the last couple of years when I’ve played pretty poor and you look around and you’re across the table from Mr Watson, Mr Nicklaus and Mr Player, Tiger (Woods) and Phil (Mickelson).
“And I’m sat there thinking ‘I’m playing rubbish, I’m f****** 300 in the world.’ It’s nice to come here after winning in November and with the game and the frame of mind better.
“You feel like you fit in a bit more and it feels a lot nicer being here with chest out, standing proud of the fact that a lot of the guys you speak to have been through hard times and, to come out of the back of it, people can respect the amount of work we did to try and get back there.”
Willett has been based in Isleworth, Florida for the first few months of the season and has yet to find top form on the PGA Tour, missing the cut in three of his seven events and recording a best finish of 25th in the Farmers Insurance Open.
But after putting in some long hours on the range at Augusta National this week, the former Ryder Cup player is confident there remains a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Our end game is definitely now within range,” Willett added. “I’ve seen what we can do in practice and I know what we can do under pressure in tournaments and it’s nice to come here and enjoy it.
“It’s a special place and it’s been a bit of a bummer the last couple of years to not fully embrace what this event is all about.”