Willett embracing new life as dad, Masters champion

By Ryan LavnerMay 10, 2016, 8:12 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – First-time major winners are supposed to bask in the glory of their accomplishments, to vacation in tropical locales, to chug anything and everything out of the trophy. But someone forgot to tell Danny Willett.

Sure, over the past four weeks he has enjoyed the spoils of winning the Masters, but only when he’s not auditioning for a role in the next "Daddy Day Care" movie.

Seriously, when Willett was asked Tuesday about the most interesting thing that’s happened to him over the past month, he offered this:

“Changed a lot of nappies.”

No, sorry, we must not have been clear: The most interesting thing that’s happened.

“That is interesting,” he said with a smile. “Depends on what he’s doing.”

Willett, 28, became a father for the first time in late March, and it was Zachariah’s early arrival that allowed the Englishman to play in the year’s first major. Willett was the last man to enter the tournament, and he also was the last one to leave, after he shot a flawless 67 in the final round and took advantage of Jordan Spieth’s missteps on the back nine.

The Players Championship: Articles, photos and videos

When he flew back home to England two days later, Willett was mobbed by fans and cameramen eager to congratulate Britain’s first Masters champion in two decades. The media crush continued once he arrived home – when taking out the garbage, he noticed paparazzi camped outside his house.

It was his first glimpse into a life that is forever changed by his Masters victory.

Though Willett was at one point the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, he has climbed the rankings with relative anonymity, known only by the most ardent golf fans, especially here in the States.

Now, he said, “you can’t go and have a nice quiet drink with the missus. At nighttime you get people asking for pictures, autographs. It comes with the territory. You can’t really complain about signing a few autographs and taking a few pictures, because you’ve just won the Masters.”

Fortunately, his home life has proven to be plenty humbling.

“Coming back down to reality was literally the first day you get back home, you open the door, (wife) Nicole’s there, and the dog jumps up and licks you and you’ve got your little man to change,” he said. “That was straight back down to reality, just being a dad and a husband.”

Willett has watched the final-round replay only once, his first night home. He settled on the couch with a cold beer in his hand, his wife and dog nearby, and the green jacket hanging on the door.

“It’s still not sunk in, to be honest,” he said. “I could still re-watch it now and we could still smile with the shots that we hit and how things unfolded.”

Willett doesn’t wear the green jacket much, or not as often as we’d probably think. He’ll slip it on for interviews. Photo shoots. Sponsor outings. The jacket travels with him, in case he’s booked for some fancy dinner that he wasn’t invited to before. “I don’t want to get it dirty or spill anything on it,” he said.

Since arriving at Sawgrass, Willett has received polite congratulations from his Tour brethren. A stack of flags awaits in his locker, ready to be signed for various charity outings.

The next phase of his career begins Thursday, when he looks to knock off a month’s worth of rust at one of the most demanding tests in golf. Since the Masters, Willett has played 18 holes only once, last Saturday. He’s been busier than anticipated.

Willett had always planned to take a few weeks off after Augusta, to reset before a busy summer schedule, to get away and spend time with his family. But, he said, “it hasn’t really been the quiet four weeks I was expecting.”

No surprise there. Life is different now.

Now the ninth-ranked player in the world, Willett is a virtual lock for both the European Ryder Cup team and England’s Olympic squad. He figures to be judged harshly by what he does next, how he backs up his major breakthrough, but he seems unfazed by the added expectations.

“I’ve got my own set of expectations of what I want to do for myself,” he said, “so I’m not really too fussed about what everybody else thinks. I’m trying to do my bit.”

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.