ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Danny Willett expected the conditions at the Old Course to resemble “Armageddon” on Friday morning.
Well, he was half right – a massive front blew through the area, with high winds and torrential rain, but the storm was so intense that huge puddles formed around the course and led to second-round play being halted for more than three hours.
So instead of enduring a test of survival and patience, Willett took advantage of the easier conditions with four birdies in his first 10 holes to surge to the top of the leaderboard. He made two late bogeys but got up-and-down from just short of 18 green for a final birdie to post a 3-under 69 and reach 9-under 135.
When Willett finished his round, he was two clear of Adam Scott (67), Mark Warren (69) and Zach Johnson (71).
“I think we’re pretty fortunate we didn’t have to play in the rain,” Willett said. “That didn’t stop the fact that it was 20, 25 mile-an-hour winds, and we were just kind of hoping it hasn’t blown itself through. We’re hoping it stays to give it a relatively fair test.”
The 27-year-old Englishman is still relatively unknown in the States.
After dropping out of college in England after only a month, he spent two years at Jacksonville (Ala.) State. The structure of college golf – mandated workouts, team practices, training, qualifying, study hall – helped Willett’s development, and he was ready to flourish upon returning home.
“I went out there at 17, quite young, a little bit messy, kind of do everything your way, and then came back two years later, bigger, stronger, a little bit more disciplined in everything I did, and that kind of set up the amateur career that I had for the next year and a half after that,” he said.
Willett won the English Amateur in 2007, a title that helped land him a spot on the GB&I Walker Cup team. The following year, he ascended to No. 1 in the World Amateur Ranking.
Success has been slow on the European Tour, but he won the BMW International Open in 2012 and then captured another title in South Africa late last yaer. Two months ago, he reached the semifinals of the WGC-Match Play at Harding Park. With a victory this week, he could vault inside the top 15 in the world.
“I think it’s a childhood dream, and looking up there (at the leaderboard) it’s still a little bit surreal,” Willett said, “but it’s something I’m going to have to get used to, otherwise there's no point in being up there.”
Seems his mother needs to get used to it, too.
Elizabeth Willett tapped out a message for her son following his two rounds here.
“Well done,” she wrote, “you’ve made the cut.”
And now he has the potential to do a whole lot more than that.