Willett carded an opening five-under-par 65 at Crans-sur-Sierre yesterday, finishing his round in style with an eagle from 10 feet on the ninth, his final hole of the day.
That left the Masters champion in a nine-way tie for second a shot behind American Paul Peterson, England’s Daniel Brooks and France’s Gregory Havret and Mike Lorenzo-Vera.
Willett has endured a mixed campaign since claiming his first major title in April, missing the cut in three of his nine events, recording a sole top-20 finish in the PGA Championship after sharing the halfway lead. The 28-year-old also snapped the putter he used at Augusta National in frustration during the US Open and could only finish 53rd in the Open, 79th in the US PGA and 37th in the Olympics.
However, the world number 11 is a big fan of this week’s venue in the Swiss mountains, where he carded a brilliant closing 65.
The only blemish on Willett’s scorecard came when he duffed his approach to the fifth, but four birdies and the closing eagle after a brilliant approach to the par-five ninth took him five under.
“It was an early start and then I had a terrible warm-up this morning, which wasn’t the best after I’ve had two weeks off trying to work on the game,” Willett told Sky. “I wasn’t quite expecting a 65.
“Luckily it’s one of them places where if you get it in position off the tee, you give yourself a few chances.”
Meanwhile Jessica Ross spearheads the Irish challenge entering the third round of the British Ladies Open stroke-play championship at Knock on the outskirts of Belfast. The international from Clandeboye fired a second round 74 for a 36-hole aggregate of 147 — one over par — to lie just three strokes adrift of leader Alessia Nobilio of Italy.
Elsewhere Ireland swept impressively into the semi-finals of the European Senior Ladies Team Championship in Poland yesterday but crashed out of contention in the senior men’s title event in Slovenia.
The women overcame Swizerland 3.5-1.5 at Sierra and today face Sweden.
The men were seeking their fourth consecutive crown but suffered a shock defeat in the at Ljubljana in Slovenia when they were humbled by Italy who won 3-2. Defeats for Arthur Pierse, Tom Cleary and the foursomes pairing of Maurice Kelly and Adrian Morrow spelled the end for Ireland.