Willett rights ship after shaky start in title defence

By Frank Pingue

By Frank Pingue

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Danny Willett used an eagle at the par-five 13th to help overcome a shaky start in his bid to retain the U.S. Masters title at windswept Augusta National on Thursday.

Willett arrived at the year's first major under the radar given his poor play since last year's breakthrough triumph and seemed ready to fade from Masters memory after following up a double-bogey at the first with bogey at the second.

"You're almost kind of hoping that you dropped all your shots just in one go," the Englishman said of his mindset after the second hole. "And we kind of did. We played pretty steady from there on in."

Willet's opening tee shot sailed far right into the trees near a service road. He needed two shots to reach the fairway from there before landing on the green and two-putting.

The 575-yard par-five second offered a chance to get a stroke back but Willett sliced his drive on the way to a bogey for a start that could not have been further from what he envisioned while getting dressed in the Champions Locker Room.

Willet dug deep and responded quickly with a birdie at the par-four third and picked up another stroke at the par-four 10th where his approach from about 180 yards stopped some eight inches from the hole.

After a bogey at 11, the 29-year-old Willett finally grinded back to even par at the par-five 13th where he made the only eagle at the hole all day after his approach from 220 yards stopped about 11 feet from the cup.

A bogey at the last gave him a one-over-par 73 that left him eight shots back of first-round leader Charley Hoffman.

"We're just trying to get the game back in shape, regardless of where you are at and which week," said Willett, who has not won a tournament since last year when he became the second Englishman after Nick Faldo to don the Green Jacket.

"We're just trying to get the game back somewhere where we can get back up there and compete."

(Editing by Larry Fine)

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