AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Danny Willett is hoping to slip under the radar once again as he bids to retain the U.S. Masters title following his dramatic and surprising victory at Augusta last year.
While American Dustin Johnson surged to the top of the world rankings and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama enjoyed a good run of form before recent struggles, Willett has experienced a quiet start to the year.
“We might be able to slip under the radar, which would be quite nice and hopefully let the result take its course,” the 29-year-old Briton told reporters.
“There’s obviously going to be a few commitments and stuff through the week but in terms of going under the radar, I think it will probably be very similar to last year, even as defending champion.”
Willett has not won a tournament since slipping on the Green Jacket 12 months ago a few weeks after winning the Dubai Desert Classic. His best recent results were sixth at the Hong Kong Open in December and fifth in the Maybank Championship in February.
“The game is not far away,” the world number 17 said.
“Our run of form obviously has been nowhere near what it was last year and nowhere near what some of the other guys are playing.”
Willett shot a bogey-free final-round 67 to win last year’s Masters by three shots, taking advantage of a spectacular meltdown by American Jordan Spieth who made a quadruple-bogey on the 12th hole.
Spieth took partial revenge at the Ryder Cup as the United States beat a European team including Willett but the pair have never discussed the Masters.
“Obviously, it wouldn’t be in my nature to bring it up,” Willett said.
“I‘m pretty sure it was a very difficult time for him. He really is one of the classiest guys out there, especially at his age, it’s quite astounding in terms of how well he took it.”
Willett admitted he struggled to maintain his form last year as he coped with the extra demands of being a major champion.
“Toward the back end of the season the game wasn’t where I wanted it to be,” he said.
“Being tired means you can get frustrated a little bit easier and that leads you to hit more balls and practise harder and in actual fact all that does at times is make you more tired.”
Willett was unable to take the six-week break he had planned.
“We had a lot of things to do when we got back from Augusta,” he said. “Then we played in the Olympics and we were in the Ryder Cup and we ended up playing about 32 events last year.”
Now fully refreshed, he cannot wait to return to the scene of his greatest triumph.
“I‘m pretty sure that as I get even within the area of Augusta, there’s going to be a big Cheshire smile on my face,” Willett said.
“I‘m going to be able to slip my shoes on in the champions locker room upstairs and to be able to go back to Augusta National and defend your first major is going to be something pretty special.”
Editing by Frank Pingue