Hong Kong Open Willett roars back into form

The Englishman admitted he was relieved with his performance in the opening tournament of the 2017 European Tour.

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US Masters champion Danny Willett hit a four under par 66 in the second round of the Hong Kong Open play

US Masters champion Danny Willett hit a four under par 66 in the second round of the Hong Kong Open

(AFP)
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US Masters champion Danny Willett roared back to form at the Hong Kong Open Friday after hitting a four under par 66 in the second round to challenge for the leadership at the halfway stage.

The Englishman admitted he was relieved with his performance in the opening tournament of the 2017 European Tour, following an end-of-season slump that saw him drop out of the top 10 world rankings.

After shooting a two under in the first round he moved up the leaderboard Friday despite starting with a bogey, hitting a series of birdies.

"It's nice to be in this position after the last few months," Willett said.

The 29-year-old has also been struggling with a bad back, which saw him pull out of the World Cup of Golf in Melbourne last month.

He also missed the British Masters in October with the injury.

"After DP World (DP World Tour Championship) we obviously took a couple of weeks off because of the back and rested it well," he said.

"I came out here probably as fresh as I've been for a month and a half."

He added: "It's probably showed mentally more than anything. The frustrations -- even when I hit bad shots I've not let it get to me as much as I probably did in the previous couple of months."

Sizeable crowds followed Willett round the Fanling course Friday but his compatriot Justin Rose, the biggest draw at the $2 million tournament, did not enjoy such a strong morning.

The Olympic gold medallist and defending champion ended the day on one under par and said he had been worried about missing the cut until he rolled in birdies on holes three, seven and eight.

"I was on plus one halfway through the back nine. From that point, you're aware of the cut line and it was nice just to get it I think ... to get comfortable, making the cut."

Last year's cut at Fanling was set at even-par.

He almost hit a hole in one on the eighth, after his tee shot rolled to within a foot of the flag.

"Fooch (caddie Mark Futcher), pulled a good club for once, so that was good," he joked.

Rose is low on match practice, having pulled out of the Hero World Challenge last week with a sore back.

The tournament was meant to have been his comeback event after taking a seven-week break to recover from the injury.

He told reporters he was moving more freely on the course Friday after admitting he had trouble retrieving the balls from the holes on Thursday -- but said he was still missing some putts.

The 36-year-old added the tournament was in danger of slipping out of reach and he needed to hit two good rounds over the weekend.

"I set myself a mini-goal of finishing the day three under which I felt would keep me in touch. I'm going to be there or thereabouts, but it's going to require a couple of low ones now," he said.

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