VIRGINIA WATER, England, May 26 (Reuters) - Danny Willett was bursting with pride after marking his first appearance on home soil since his surprise U.S. Masters victory with a sizzling six-under-par 66 in the BMW PGA Championship first round on Thursday.
The 28-year-old Englishman made hay in the Wentworth sunshine, reeling off six birdies and avoiding any dropped strokes to move within one shot of early leaders Scott Hend of Australia, South Korean Yang Yong-eun and Dutchman Joost Luiten.
”I had a great reception all the way round,“ Willett told reporters. ”It’s nice, they don’t have to be here and they don’t have to come out supporting, but they do.
“You’ve got to appreciate that and enjoy it and hopefully, touch wood, give them some good golf to watch.”
Willett won his first major title when he landed the coveted Green Jacket at Augusta National in April in only his second appearance at the Masters.
He had a frustrating time at last week’s Irish Open, finishing in a share of 23rd place in his first event in Europe since winning the opening major of the season, but was inspired by the large galleries at Wentworth.
“Last week in Ireland was fantastic but there was a little bit more support out there today being a home boy in England,” Willett said.
The five-times European Tour winner picked up shots at the second, sixth and eighth holes as he raced to the turn in 32 and kept up his surge with further birdies at the 10th, 14th and 17th.
Willett sank his teeth into the club face on his pitching wedge after a disappointing chip at the 17th before making up for it by rolling in his putt for a four.
Most players would have been more than satisfied with an opening six-under effort but the perfectionist in the Englishman was evident as he frequently muttered under his breath over shots he viewed as less than perfect.
“It’s always nice when you come off bogey-free, it means you’ve played some real good golf and you’ve not given any stupid shots away,” the world number nine said.
“(But) I played the par-fives particularly average in fairness after relatively good drives on most of them. It could have been a really good day.”
Willett’s four at the 17th was his only birdie at the four par-five holes. (Editing by Ed Osmond)