Masters champion Danny Willett is back and primed for Hong Kong Open return after much-needed break
The 29-year-old is one of the star attractions next week at Fanling alongside compatriot and 2016 Olympic Games gold medal winner Justin Rose and American Patrick Reed
Don’t worry, you have not lost a month, but Masters champion Danny Willett is looking forward to making a strong start to 2017 at next week’s UBS Hong Kong Open after taking time out to primarily recover from a back injury but also any post-Ryder Cup hangover which may have still been lingering.
World number 11 Willett opted to pull out of last week’s World Cup of Golf in Australia to rest a troublesome back complaint ahead of next week’s trip to Fanling for the co-sanctioned US$2 million event, which strangely sits towards the start of the 2017 European Tour season but is also the final event for the Asian Tour in 2016.
Hong Kong will bring an end to 2016 as a calender year for Willett after a 12 months containing the high of winning a green jacket at Augusta in April to losing the Ryder Cup amid the turmoil caused by comments made by his brother prior to the showdown with the USA at Hazeltine.
Overall, it was a strong 12 months for the 29-year-old after also winning February’s Dubai Desert Classic although a string of poor results in the wake of the Ryder Cup left Willett only second on the order of merit behind British Open champion Henrik Stenson.
“The injury is OK; it was precautionary to pull out of the World Cup as it was probably too much for me to play five weeks in a row after all the travelling and the stress that goes with game. It was precautionary to make sure I don’t ruin my back like I have done before and to make sure I am nice and fresh for the 2017 season starting in Hong Kong,” said Willett, who finished tied for 50th at the European Tour’s season-ending event in Dubai two weeks ago.
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“If I had played the World Cup I could have hurt my back more and I might have had to pull out of Hong Kong and that would not have been a good start to my 2017 campaign, so it was precautionary to make sure I was fighting fit for the start of the 2017 season.
“For the last two years I have only been at 80%. It is as good as it has been for the last two years and the World Cup was just precautionary to make sure I don’t do any further damage and everything is pretty good.”
Since failing to win a point as Europe relinquished their grip on the Ryder Cup at the start of October, Willett has managed just an 11th place finish at last month’s Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa having missed the cut at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship just days after returning from the USA with the comments from his brother Peter about American fans still fresh in everyone's memory.
“You get highs and lows, but I had a few lows in a row. You have got to look at the season as a whole, some people had bad starts or bad middles, I had a bad end but I still finished second on the Race to Dubai,” added Willett.
“The numbers were not good for the last couple of months, but I was still working hard and the work ethic was still there, but the finishes were just not quite happening.”
Heavy artillery: Olympic gold medallist Justin Rose and Masters champion Danny Willett set to light up Hong Kong Open
Willett is returning to Hong Kong Golf Club for the second time having finished tied for 21st behind Rory McIlroy in December 2011 after recovering from a opening round of five-over-par 75 to eventually finish at two-under overall.
“It is a good little golf course. The scoring chances are pretty good, there are a few key holes that can play pretty tough, but there are a lot of birdie chances,” said Willett, who will fly into Hong Kong from training in Dubai having been in Malaysia earlier this week for a corporate engagement.
“I enjoyed it in 2011 and the only reason I have not played since is it is usually during my downtime when I put the clubs down for a little bit.
“I am looking to start 2017 off on a golf course I like and in a country I like and I am looking forward to it to try to get back to winning ways.”
Willett will be joined in Hong Kong by compatriot and 2016 Olympic Games gold medal winner Justin Rose and American Patrick Reed, both who are playing in this week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.