The Open: Willett can see light at end of tunnel as he makes excellent start at Carnoustie

Danny Willett in action at The Open at Carnoustie
Danny Willett in action at The Open at Carnoustie
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Danny Willett admits his dark times were “pitch black”, but the former Masters champion is continuing to see a light at the end of the tunnel

Willett reached a career high of ninth in the world after claiming his first major title at Augusta National in 2016, but had slumped outside the top 450 earlier this season after suffering numerous injuries and a loss of form.

A missed cut in the French Open was his ninth in 12 events, but the 30-year-old from Sheffield bounced back to finish sixth in the Irish Open and 19th in last week’s Scottish Open at Gullane.

And that upward trend continued with an opening 69 in the Open Championship at Carnoustie, a first sub-par round in a major since the 2016 Masters which threatened to be even better when the former Ryder Cup player reached four under par with five holes to play.

It was enough howver to ensure an overnight tie for eighth, three shots off leader Kevin Kisner.

“That was good and we had a lot of 12, 15 footers as well that just slid by,” said Willett, who dropped shots on the 17th and 18th. “Could have been a really, really nice knock, but at the end of the day it wasn’t.

“It’s definitely nice to be stood here after shooting a relatively stress-free 69. You look at the number as a whole and not how we finish or how we start. It’s a number in the 60s and we’ve had a few the past couple of months which has been really nice.

“As much as you don’t like getting up at 4:20am, you can go back and get your feet up. You know there’s going to be some good scores and you’re going to tumble down the leaderboard, but you’ve done your shift and you can go get ready for tomorrow.

“I’m pretty hopeful we’ll never be in as dark a place as we were. It was pitch black. But this is a strange odd game. You get ebbs and flows and hit a low point, but I’ve really enjoyed golf the last six, seven weeks.

“Even getting the clubs out and going to play at home without having to do two hours of warm-up and go see the physio felt pretty good. That kind of leads you to work a little bit harder, even if it’s just an extra half an hour putting and an extra half an hour hitting balls.

“And the little sessions you’re able to do for a bit longer because your body is better and just enables you to gain a little more than you ordinarily would have. And then to be able to go home and not have to go through treatment it’s nice.

“Regardless of what the golf is and how the golf is, it’s a lot better place to be.”

Willett is out at 11.58am on Friday for his second round.

Fellow Sheffield golfer Matt Fitzpatrick carded a one over par 72 as he struggled to make inroads on a tight day of scoring.

He is among Friday’s early groups, heading out at 7.41am.