Danny Willett Makes Flying Start At The Masters After Six-Month Injury Layoff

2016 Masters champion Danny Willett returned from a long-term injury in style with an impressive first-round 68

Danny Willett of England reacts on the first green during the first round of the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Danny Willett exceeded even his loftiest expectations after he fired a superb opening-round 68 at the Masters in his first competitive round in 207 days.

Willett, a surprise winner at Augusta National in 2016, looked set to miss out on the tournament having been forced to undergo major surgery on his left shoulder following the BMW PGA Championship in September last year.

Despite expecting to be out of action for 12-18 months, the Englishman raced back in just over six months to be fit for Augusta and opened the tournament with a remarkable four-under-par round on Thursday.

"I had no idea what to expect, so yeah, it's obviously always nice to come in having shot a decent score, and just give yourself that little bit of confidence inside and hopefully have a nice few more days," Willett said after his first round.

"It was playing tough which probably made us concentrate that little bit more. Posting an all right score of level par would, for me, have been an amazing achievement, but to shoot 68, yeah, really happy."

One of the early starters following Thursday's rain-delayed start, Willett notched up the tournament's first birdie at his very first hole, finding three more to shoot a front-nine 33 after just one blemish at the par-4 fifth. 

Bogeys on 10 and 14 threatened to undo his good early-round work, but the past champion ended with a flourish, birdieing three of his final four holes, including the last to post his lowest round at the Masters since 2020.

Having only decided to enter the Sunday before tournament week, the 36-year-old had little expectation for the week but insisted he wouldn't get ahead of himself despite Thursday's encouraging showing.

"I played Sunday with a friend of mine, and I played all right," he explained. "We played 27, woke up the next day, no pain, no nothing, walked it, and that was like: 'All right even if you play bad I think it's still worthwhile taking the risk and at least pegging it up and feed off people's energy around here and hopefully have a few good days.'

"Everything is just a building block. This was a completely neutral week. Whether I played or not I was still going to come here and enjoy being here. I might go out tomorrow and shoot 80, I don't know. But it's just the fact that we're here and pain-free, it's just a nice way to be."

Willett sits three strokes behind clubhouse leader Bryson DeChambeau after the LIV star fired a supreme seven-under-par 65. 

Ben Fleming

Ben joined Golf Monthly having completed his NCTJ in multimedia sports journalism at News Associates, London. He is now a freelance journalist who also works for The Independent, Metro, UEFA and Stats Perform.