Willett marked his debut in The European Tour's star-studded showpiece event with a nine birdie, six under par 65 to set the clubhouse target.
This on a day when World Number Three Lee Westwood and defending champion Paul Casey shot 70s and three-time Major Champion Padraig Harrington a 71.
As for Ernie Els, the man who redesigned of the par five 18th, he was among those who went in the new ditch in front of the green.
Els was joint leader at the time - Willett had still to birdie the last three holes - but despite taking a bogey six, the South African soon realised a 69 had kept his title hopes very much alive.
Asked to describe Willett, a 22 year old vicar's son from Sheffield, former Walker Cup teammate Rory McIlroy replied: "Confident, bouncy - and a good lad."
Both were ranked number one in the world for a spell as amateurs, but now 119 places separate them as professionals, with McIlroy ninth and Willett 128th.
The Northern Irishman, one year younger than Willett, has won on both sides of the Atlantic, while Willett has yet to register a top-three finish.
This would be some week to change that. First prize is €750,000 and it comes with a five year European Tour exemption, plus a place in July's Open Championship at St Andrews.
By his own admission "a bit hot-headed, fairly giddy all the time", Willett credits experienced caddie Malcolm Mason - he used to be on Sam Torrance's bag - for pulling the reins in on him.
As for the comparison with McIlroy, the former English amateur champion said: "There are different ways to look at it.
"It took Rory probably a year and a bit to get his first win (in Dubai early last season). I've been out a little bit longer now, but I just need to really concentrate on what I'm doing and hopefully the door and the opportunities will come up for me."
Being a newcomer to the course may have helped in the sense of not being distracted by all the changes. Willett birdied five of the first eight holes and then produced his storming finish.
At the 539 yard 18th, even with the tee moved forward around 20 yards, he decided he was not going for the green in two like Els and then hit an 89 yard pitch to three feet.
By the time more than 100 players had completed the 18th, there was still only one eagle - a four iron to 15 feet by Scot Marc Warren in the very first group of the day.
Willett led by a stroke from fellow Englishman Steve Webster and Australian left-hander Richard Green, Webster still having the two closing par fives to come.
In years gone by Webster would have hoped to lead from his position with two to play, but like so many others he bogeyed the 17th and parred the last and had to settle for a 67 that left him in joint third place with last year's runner-up Ross Fisher, Scot Richie Ramsay and Indian SSP Chowrasia.
Chowrasia, who chipped in for birdie at the third and picked up further shots at the fourth and fifth, said: "I'm playing very well today because I holed a few chips and a few putts, which is good.
"These greens, actually line reading is very easy compared to the old greens. That's why I'm playing well."
Ramsay, a former US Amateur Championship winner, put his success down to putting improvements which came about due to an Icelandic volcano.
The volcanic ash, which caused travel chaos in and out of Europe, left the 26 year old stranded in Atlanta.
With nothing better to do, the World Number 161 visited the TaylorMade fitting centre and the adjustments clearly worked well.
"I travelled down there for the day and one of the fitters, Jay Johnson, we were talking about putters for a good hour," said Ramsay.
"And I wanted to keep the same putter, but we felt something that was slightly different and different loft and lie and worked on that and ever since then, I've worked just hard on my posture and pace and everything and seems to be paying dividends."
Webster added: “I played really good front nine. Let a few silly shots on the back nine, but overall really happy how I played.”
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