England’s Danny Willett posted a superb seven under par 65 on day one of the BMW International Open to put himself in good shape just one behind Marcus Fraser after the opening exchanges at Golf Club Gut Lärchenhof.
Willett, whose best finish so far this season came with a tied third place at the Maybank Malaysian Open, made five birdies and an eagle on the par five 16th – after firing in a perfect three iron to three feet – during a flawless first round on the Jack Nicklaus layout, taking full advantage of the favourable scoring conditions on offer in Cologne on Thursday.
“I played lovely on the front nine without doing much,” said Willett, “but I made a bunker shot on nine to birdie and go to two under and I played lovely on the back nine; hit every green, every fairway. I had a lot of chances and was just really solid.
“But the golf course is relatively wet; there wasn't much breeze. It was there for the taking and was really just a case of trying to find a way to keep your score in. The greens are receptive so if you hit some good shots, get some good numbers in, you can get close.
The Yorkshireman’s display was reminiscent of some of the fine golf he exhibited at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2010, when he narrowly missed out on the title in a career-best second place finish behind Martin Kaymer, with straight driving and pin-point approaches accounting for his excellent scoring.
“I probably only missed about four fairways,” he continued. “We are hitting it long so we had a lot of mid to short irons in the hand, which is ideal to these tight flags. I think it was just a well thought out round, I laid back on a couple of the tees with three wood and didn't have to go with driver. It was a clever round of golf and played really nice and holed a few putts.”
And after struggling for much of the 2011 season, a number of injuries leading to a frustrating 91st place finish in The Race to Dubai, Willett admitted that a return to full health has had a positive impact on his practice regimen, work that now appears to be reaping dividends.
He reflected: “This year's been better. Last year obviously I had injuries and I've only been fully fit now for three months. So the last year, year and a half before that I had a fracture in my rib and since then I’ve had injuries have every now and again.
“Only the last three months I've been fully fit so fully practising, fully training and that definitely helps.”
Willett, then, can take heart from the impressive performance and head into Friday, and the weekend, with new confidence.
“This year, there's been a lot of cuts made but the weekend has been a bit poor; whether that's been doing a bit too much early on in the week, I’m not sure, so I’m just trying to find a good balance out there now!”