E.A. Sports Today

Willett has memorable first round

Former JSU golfer shoots 71, gets crystal in first Masters experience

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Danny Willett has more than a memory of playing his first-ever competitive round at the Masters. He’s got a piece of crystal, and a piece of his mind for a rules official — if he can ever find him.

The former Jacksonville State golfer made a 65-foot putt for eagle on the par-5 No. 13 “Azalea” in Thursday’s opening round of the 79th Masters. Players making eagle in the tournament get a piece of crystal.

After the round he called the 3 “the kind of thing you’re dreaming of when you’re a kid, boxing a long one across the green.”

He pulled his second shot off a hook lie from 217 yards onto the upper left tier of the green and slapped his leg at the outcome. That demeanor changed as his sweeping putt crept over the crest of the slope and then raced down toward the hole. He raised his putter over his head when the ball disappeared into the cup.

The eagle helped him shoot 71 – the same score as ageless Tom Watson, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and defending champion Bubba Watson — four shots off the early lead. Not bad for a Masters rookie. He made the field by breaking into the top 50 of the world rankings by the end of 2014.

“It was brilliant,” he said of the experience. “First tee was awesome. Obviously different way of announcing off the first tee, 7:56 tee time, second off; there was already 20,000 people around the golf course, just really special.

“It’s one of them ‘I feel like I kind of should be here’ kind of things, but you’re not trying to put too much pressure on yourself. To be here all four days the first time out is a nice one. Over the years, you look at guys, the more you play it the better your chances are of getting it around. … For first time around, pretty good.”

One of the benefits of going off so early — besides playing when the wind was down — is Willett got to see one of the tournament’s most enduring traditions. Honorary starters Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player got the event underway by striking the first shots of the tournament.

“I said hello to Gary ‑‑ sorry, Mr. Player — on the range,” Willett said.

Charley Hoffman went off in the first tournament group, right in front of Willett, and shot 65. McIlroy said after his round anything under par Thursday was “a decent score.”

“What a start for a first Masters,” JSU golf coach James Hobbs said. “I thought he played great under that pressure. You can never win a tournament the first day but you can sure lose one. He put himself in a good position.”

The only hiccups Willett had in the round were bogeys on 1, 11, 14 and 17 and being put on the clock on 15, which led to a little mental gymnastics when a rules official parked in his line of sight on 17.

“It’s a little bit tricky out here, so it takes a little bit of time,” Willett said, “but you’d like to think the referee that’s timing you, he knows exactly where to put his buggy and where not to put his buggy, and probably on the line is not the best. I’ll have a word with him.”

Alas, he never did.

“He drove off,” he said. “Didn’t quite get to tell him exactly.”


PAR 454 343 454 36 443 545 344 36 72
DW 544 343 444 35 453 355 254 36 71

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