AUGUSTA -- Danny Willett has spent the last 12 months as a statesman of Augusta National Golf Club as the reigning Masters champion.
He's enjoyed the perks that have come with that status -- wearing the green jacket in public with pride, the coveted No. 1 badge reserved for the defending champion, even planning Tuesday night's Champions Dinner. So it's understandable when he says it would be a shame to potentially have to slip the jacket onto someone else's shoulders come Sunday evening.
"Yeah, so far this week's been amazing just to be back and all the memories and the feelings that you get from this place," Willett said at his Tuesday press conference. "And the last 12 months has been somewhat of a roller coaster within life and golf. So we're kind of getting back on now to getting the game back hopefully into a place where, you know, we can get into positions where we were last year on Sunday."
Last year on Sunday, of course, was one of the more stunning finishes in Masters history. Jordan Spieth's multi-year stranglehold over the tournament loosened with a quadruple bogey on 12, which somewhat overshadowed just how well Willett played down the stretch in erasing a five-stroke deficit in a six-hole span -- his bogey-free 67 was the low round of the day and only the sixth time in Masters history that the tournament winner didn't make a bogey on Sunday.
Starting Thursday, he'll look to join a rare club of back-to-back champions -- only fellow Englishman Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have won the Masters in consecutive years.
Though this will only be his third Masters appearance, the 29-year-old is banking on experience to aid his performance. He looked back at his yardage books and said Tuesday that additional rounds illuminate certain areas on the course that must be avoided.
"Fortunately, around Augusta, we know our way around here pretty well," he said, "and if we don't feel comfortable we can play to areas, like I said, where not everyone is going to be making birdie on certain holes and you can hit it into an area where you think you can make the easiest par from and then you kind of golf from there."
Willett may only have eight competitive rounds on his Augusta National resume, but he's only made one double bogey in 144 holes played. In last year's win, he did two of the things most important to avoiding those high numbers -- hitting to the right areas on the greens and making putts.
Disaster aversion could be especially critical with high winds forecast for the first two rounds Thursday and Friday.
"You're not going to have to hit perfect golf shots," he said. "You're going to have to leave it where you can get up-and-down or where you can two-putt from wherever that may be. I don't think it's necessarily watching, but making sure you're doing your homework and you know what you're doing."
Willett, ranked 17th in the Official World Golf Ranking, has a couple of top-10 finishes on the European Tour in 2017. He said that over the last year he's noticed how becoming a major champion has made him a little more impatient.
"I think achieving what I achieved last year and performing under pressure that I did on Sunday, you come away and if you don't do that every time, you get a bit annoyed," he said. "You feel like you should be able to, and you've done it once, why can't you do it every time you play.
"That's where the game jumps up and bites you. It's not that easy. You can't just do it week-in and week-out. There's a few men that have been able to do it over the years, but they are few and far between."
How that impatience affects him this week in his first return trip since his victory is yet to be seen. But, like he pointed out Tuesday, the feelings of being back are happy ones.
"It's a great place to be. Obviously, we have got some great memories around here," he said. "It's nice to be back and we've had a few days of good work. So like I said in previous interviews, it's now trying to get the game to where I can get back in positions and hopefully do it again."
This article is written by Kyle Dawson from Aiken Standard, S.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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