Sheffield’s Danny Willett is relieved to play pain-free again after a good start at the Open Yorkshire News

English Danny Willett comes out of a bunker on the 6th. Image: PA
Englishman Danny Willett comes out of a bunker on the 6th. Image: PA

To say that it hasn’t been a great year for Danny Willett would be an understatement, as the 2016 Masters champion caught Covid-19, had a wisdom tooth removed, and would then need surgery for appendicitis and a hernia.

But 2021 could still include a career-defining moment after the 33-year-old from Sheffield got off to an excellent start at the 149th Open at Royal St George’s.

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Seeking to become the first English Open winner since Sir Nick Faldo in 1992, Willett birdied four of his last eight holes to score a three-under-67 start.

Jonathan Thomson from Yorkshire. (Photo by Christopher Lee / Getty Images)

“Playing for the first time without pain was wonderful,” Willett said. “The hernia healed well, but they entered three places and broke my obliques with one and that hurts a lot.

“It was a happy sneeze with no pain for the first time on Saturday. That sounds stupid but that’s where I’ve been. It was a good job, we caught it so early. I saw the doctor on Memorial Sunday. If we had quit, who knows?

And who knows what else 2021 will bring? It could end well. I hope so.”

Willett has dropped to 115th place in the world rankings and is out of the automatic qualifying spots for the Ryder Cup, but European captain Padraig Harrington invited him to a dinner for potential team members during last week’s Scottish Open.

Marcus Armitage of Huddersfield. (Photo by Chris Trotman / Getty Images)

“I’m still running around to win at Wentworth (2019 BMW PGA Championship), but I’ve never had a good enough race to progress,” added Willett, who was out of shape and failed to earn a point on his Hazeltine debut in 2016.

“Covid came and I had to leave the Players (Championship), which left me out of the top 64 for the match play, which left me out of the top 50 for other things.

“I have not done much wrong, but things have not gone in my favor.

“As long as you are fit and healthy and can swing a golf club, anything can happen.

“There are big points at stake going forward and obviously I have played before. If by some unforeseen miracle something happens to me, I will meet the guys who will be on the team.

“It was a nice gesture (from Padraig) and it was nice to see all the guys again.

“When he started telling stories, I felt a tingle again. It’s definitely something I want to do, but I feel like it was a little late this time. “

Huddersfield’s Marcus Armitage celebrated his 34th birthday with an impressive starting round of 69.

Armitage started on the first ball of three to fire a round of low par one.

Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick and Rotherham’s Jonathan Thomson are in contention for overcoming the cut after shooting 71s.

But it was a rough day for Yorkshire trio Nick Poppleton, Sam Bairstow and Ben Hutchinson.

Poppleton, from Wath, was in the last group of the day returning home in ’75.

That was the same score for Hallowes Golf Club fan Bairstow, two shots better than Howley Hall’s Hutchinson, who returned 77.

Two years after starting the Open Championship with a quad bogey eight, Rory McIlroy started his first round at Royal St George’s with a birdie three.

And while the four-time Major winner couldn’t build on that ideal start, McIlroy was happy to fight from a bogey hat-trick in the first nine to a par 70 card.

“It probably won’t make a big difference in one more or even this early in the tournament, but mentally it feels a little better to birdie the last one and I’m looking forward to getting back out tomorrow,” McIlroy said.

Doncaster’s Josh Berry was lost to his England teammate Harley Smith in the battle for the McGregor Trophy.

Smith emerged victorious after a thrilling finish in the 72-hole stroke play event at Camberley Heath Golf Club, Surrey.

Rounds of 67, 66 and two final scores of 69 in the under-16 event gave the Rayleigh, Essex golfer a -13 total and a Berry one-shot victory.

Berry closed with a round of 67 for a total of -12, with Smith outscoring thanks to three straight birdies from 11.

Berry added: “It was a tough question after the first two rounds. Today I played to win and I fell short. It is what it is.”

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This notice was published: 2021-07-15 22:44:08

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