Danny Willett pushing to be fully fit for Masters after shoulder surgery

By Sports Desk February 28, 2024

As a former Masters champion, Danny Willett will definitely be at Augusta National for the first major of the year.

Whether he is there just to sample the delights of Jon Rahm’s menu for the champions dinner or swinging a golf club in anger is less certain as he battles to regain full fitness following shoulder surgery.

Willett looked set to challenge for a second BMW PGA Championship title in September when he covered his first 12 holes in six under par, only to aggravate a shoulder tear after hitting his tee shot on the 15th.

The 2019 champion played through the pain barrier and completed all 72 holes at Wentworth but underwent surgery the following week and faces a race against time to compete at Augusta, where he won in dramatic style in 2016.

“The surgery went really well, I’m back hitting balls right now but Augusta is six weeks away. It’ll be very, very close,” Willett told the PA news agency at the launch of Prostate Cancer UK’s fundraising challenge, The Big Golf Race.

“It’s been a long time rehabbing it just to get it up to strength to be able to take the capacity and the load that it needs to. We’ll know more when we start practising in America as to how we’re getting on.

“The beauty of potentially playing [the Masters] is the fact that I know the golf course that well I’m probably not going to be slogging around 18 holes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in practice rounds.

“I’ll be able to take it a little bit easier but I also don’t want to go there and just make up the numbers.”

Willett had been managing his shoulder problem for several months before it flared up at Wentworth and the extent of the damage was only discovered when he went under the knife.

“We thought there was one tear and when the surgeon went in he realised there were two tears and a good bit of damage around the cartilage and a few cysts he had to clear out,” Willett said.

“It’s a pretty intrusive surgery and it was a bit scary when I first came out and I could barely lift my own hand. You wonder if you’ve done the right thing but now it feels pretty good.

“Ultimately I’m only 36 so I’ve still got a hell of a long time left in my career, so to have this time out now will hopefully mean I can come back and prolong my career and have another good 10 or 15 years at it.”

Willett is now into his fourth year of supporting Prostate Cancer UK’s fundraising efforts and raised £38,000 as host of the British Masters for two years as title sponsors Betfred donated £1,000 for every birdie he made.

The 36-year-old admits it was “staggering” to learn that prostate cancer affects one in eight men in the UK and is backing this year’s The Big Golf Race, which challenges golfers to play 36, 72 or even 100 holes in a day.

“It’s a great charity to support,” Willett said. “As men, if something’s not right or we don’t feel well, very rarely do we go and get it sorted so it was about making people aware to go and get checked.

“One of my old England coaches Steve Rolley was diagnosed and fortunately they got it early enough and he’s now fine. It’s amazing how many people it has affected that you know, but how little information there was out there about it.”

::: Danny Willett is supporting Prostate Cancer UK’s golf fundraising challenge, The Big Golf Race, which is calling on golfers to take on 36, 72 or 100 holes in a day to raise money and help save men’s lives. To sign up, visit prostatecanceruk.org/get-involved/activity/golf/the-big-golf-race

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    Willett had feared he would be sidelined for at least a year following shoulder surgery in September last year but recovered sufficiently to return to the scene of his 2016 triumph and carded a superb opening 68.

    The 36-year-old was also level par for 17 holes in extremely difficult conditions in Friday’s second round before an untimely triple bogey on the 18th, but comfortably made the halfway cut and went on to finish in a tie for 45th along with defending champion Jon Rahm.

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    “But the body feels good, shoulder feels really strong so now I’ve got another seven weeks off to go and do the work that we need to do to progress before we come back properly.

    “If you said at the start of the week that you’re going to have some really good spells and you’d finish 45th you’d have probably taken it, so there’s some good things to work on.

    “The 68 in the first round was fantastic and the last couple of days could have been three or four shots better without being crazy.

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    Asked if he was now tempted to add tournaments to his schedule, Willett added: “It is tempting, it’s really tempting but my manager’s going to speak to the guys and see what happens with the medical stuff.

    “They’ve always told me to not come back too early because you don’t really gain anything in terms of your medical exemptions and things like that.

    “There’s still no rush. The main plan was the European Open in Hamburg in seven weeks.

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