AFP/Springfield, United States
Reigning Masters champion Danny Willett wants to move beyond the excitement of winning his first major title and concentrate on recapturing his best form.
In April, the 28-year-old Englishman fired a final-round 67 at Augusta National to take advantage of a back-nine collapse by Jordan Spieth and take the green jacket from the American.
“It’s time to move on a little bit from what we did,” Willett said yesterday.
“It was fantastic and yeah, it has changed my life, but we need to get back to the kind of form that we took into that week and hopefully then move forward.”
Willett became the first British player in 20 years to win the Masters and this week hopes to become the first player since Jack Nicklaus in 1975 to capture the Masters and PGA Championship, the year’s first and last majors, in the same season.
“The game is pretty good. Hopefully we are all set to try to compete again in the last major,” he said.
Willett tees off Thursday at the 98th PGA Championship at Baltusrol alongside this year’s other major winners, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson from the British Open two weeks ago and American Dustin Johnson from last month’s US Open.
“I think you’ll see a lot more different champions. I think winning a Grand Slam these days is virtually impossible, and I think it has definitely proved that this year with the three different winners at the first three majors,” Willett said.
“It just goes to show the strength and depth throughout golf at the moment. It just goes to show on a week-to-week basis that if anyone who is really there pitches up with their A Game, they have got a good chance of winning.”
Willett has enjoyed his new-found fame as a major champion, wearing the green jacket at Wimbledon.
“I haven’t worn it too much,” Willett said. “The reaction has been great. You always get a few people wanting to have a look at it and stuff.
“Hopefully try and move on from that and try and get another couple of trophies under the belt. We’ve got a very important second half of the season coming up.”
Willett tries a new pitch
Willett threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a New York Yankees’ Major League Baseball game, but isn’t looking to switch sports any time soon.
“It was a great day,” he said. “Yankees baseball is steeped in history. The ground was awesome, and the way they treated us, and to be able to go out there in front of quite a few thousand people and not mess up too bad, was pretty good.
“Didn’t hit somebody in the first row, so I think we did all right.”
Willett said he likes the way the PGA of America selects a variety of courses, including this week’s par-70, 7,462-yard layout, and lures the toughest field of any major.
“You get probably the strongest field in any of the majors because it’s top 100 in the world and usually you get 99 or so of them playing,” Willett said.
“And it’s obviously quite unique in the way that they never go for a certain type of golf course.
“It’s a tricky one because you never quite know what the score is going to be for the week, so you try to go out there and get a good game plan. If you finish anywhere near 6, 7, 8-under par, I think that would be a very good score for four rounds around this course.”
Defending champ Day confident at storm-soaked PGA
Severe thunderstorms drenched Baltusrol with heavy rain on Monday, cutting short the first practice session for the 98th PGA Championship and soaking greens that had been fast in afternoon heat.
Sweltering heat greeted players in the early afternoon but the day ended with standing water puddled across many areas of the course after thunder, lightning and downpours.
PGA of America officials halted play at 4:38 pm and had spectators seek shelter, several dozen huddling in the massive souvenir tent until a break between storms allowed them a chance to leave.
It was a signal that players could face a lot of extremes in this week’s quest for the Wanamaker Trophy, with forecasts for hot conditions until storms are set to return for the weekend.
World number one Jason Day of Australia will try to defend his first major title, which he won last year at Whistling Straits.
“I feel good about my game,” Day said. “I’m hitting a lot of good shots and that has given me confidence. I should be good to go.”
Day was won seven titles in the past year and flirted with major success, sharing 10th at the Masters and eighth at the US Open.
His mindset is less about repeating as champion, especially on a different course, than it is about achieving new feats.
“I never really look at it as defending,” he said. “I try to win it again. That’s the mentality.”
World number two Dustin Johnson made his major breakthrough last month by winning the US Open at Oakmont. The American also won a WGC event at Firestone and shared ninth at the British Open, enough good finishes to bolster his confidence entering the final major tournament of the year.
“I think the game is in really good shape,” Johnson said. “Do a little practice on the putting in the next few days, but other than that, I’m really confident in the game right now. I feel like everything is going really well.”
Day will play the first two rounds alongside four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, the 2014 PGA Championship winner, and Phil Mickelson, the 46-year-old US left-hander who won the last PGA Championship played at Baltusrol in 2005.
Mickelson battled British Open winner Henrik Stenson into the final holes before settling for second to the Swede at Royal Troon two weeks ago.
Johnson will play Thursday and Friday alongside Stenson and Masters champion Danny Willett of England in the annual threesome of the season’s prior major winners. Each won his first major this year — and none of them wants to see another first-timer take the trophy this week.
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