Former champion Danny Willett moves into Masters contention with second-round 66

Former champion Danny Willett and Tommy Fleetwood took route 66 up the leaderboard in the 84th Masters as Rory McIlroy battled back from his worst ever start at Augusta National.

Willett followed a double bogey on the opening hole of his second round with an eagle and six birdies to complete a superb 66, beating his previous tournament best of 67 in the final round of his dramatic triumph in 2016.

Fleetwood also returned a 66 to join Willett on seven under par, two shots behind early clubhouse leaders Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Abraham Ancer and Cameron Smith.

Willett, who had missed the cut every year since his victory, holed from six feet for an eagle on the par-five 13th and followed that with birdies on the 14th, 15th and 17th before picking up further shots on the second, third and ninth.

“Things felt pretty good coming into the week and it’s just one of them things, you get nice memories, nice vibes about the place,” Willett told Sky Sports.

“It’s obviously playing very different to what we all know it can play like, but it has been a good week so far.

“The driver cracked this morning on 17, which was a shame, so we played the second round with just a three wood – it might just stay that way for the rest of the week.”

Willett hailed the quality of his approach play, adding: “We would have gained a hell of a lot of shots on the field into the greens. Nice to finish with a birdie on nine because I think the scoring will continue to be really good as the day goes on.

“It’s been four years since I’ve seen my name on that leaderboard so it was very pleasant when it popped up.”

Fleetwood’s 66 equalled his best from the third round in 2018, the 29-year-old following a bogey on the first with three straight birdies and picking up further shots on the eighth, 13th, 15th and 18th.

McIlroy was level par when the delayed first round resumed in perfect conditions, but covered the back nine in three over to fall 10 shots off the lead.

After a short break the players headed back on to the course for round two and McIlroy looked a different player as he birdied the 10th, 12th, 15th and 17th to get into red figures for the first time.

McIlroy also birdied the second and eighth and signed for a second round of 66 to finish three under par and keep his pursuit of the victory he needs to complete the career grand slam alive.

The 31-year-old needs to win a green jacket to join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Gary Player in having claimed all four major titles.

However, none of those players needed more than three tries at winning the final leg of the grand slam, while McIlroy is making his sixth Masters start since winning the Open Championship in 2014.

Rory McIlroy struggled on the back nine
Rory McIlroy struggled on the back nine

McIlroy resumed his first round with a bogey on the 10th and had to take a penalty drop from the undergrowth with the aid of an Augusta National member following a wild drive on the 13th, but at least remembered his manners.

“Thanks and sorry for getting your green jacket dirty,” McIlroy said to the official before pitching back on to the fairway on his way to another dropped shot.

McIlroy also bogeyed the 14th and followed a much-needed birdie on the 15th by pulling his tee shot on the 16th into the water.

“That’s so bad, oh my God,” McIlroy exclaimed in exasperation, although he was at least able to salvage a bogey following a mediocre pitch from the drop zone.

Three in a row for Johnson.

— The Masters (@TheMasters) November 13, 2020

Playing alongside McIlroy, Johnson had threatened to put significant distance between himself and the chasing pack when he made light of Amen Corner with birdies on the 11th, 12th and 13th to briefly enjoy a three-shot lead.

However, the world number one then three-putted the 14th and dropped another shot on the 15th after finding the water with his approach and eventually added a second round of 70 to his opening 65.