Danny Willett: Former Masters champion blocking out 'internal noises' to return to form

Danny Willett
Former Masters champion Danny Willett dropped as low as 462 in the world rankings in 2018
The Players Championship
Venue: Players Stadium Course, TPC Sawgrass Date: 14-17 March
Coverage: Live text commentary and in-play highlights during the third and final rounds on Saturday and Sunday on the BBC Sport website, plus regular updates from the course on BBC Radio 5 Live

Former Masters champion Danny Willett says blocking out "internal noise" in his head has helped him get back to his best, as he prepares for this week's Players Championship at Sawgrass.

The 31-year-old has struggled for form and fitness, while also splitting with his coach, caddy and manager since his surprise win at the Masters in 2016.

"People call you all sorts from behind a computer or a rope," he said.

"It's more what you're saying to yourself."

Briton Willett - who is now based in Orlando, Florida, with his family - withdrew from the 2017 Players Championship with back injury.

But he tees off alongside US golfer Adam Long and veteran Vijay Singh on Thursday, rejuvenated after dealing with internal pressures and winning the European Tour's season-ending DP World Tour Championship in November 2018 - his first win since the 2016 Masters.

"It's not [difficult to deal with] external noise, it's internal noise that is more impressive to try and shut out," he told The Cut: The BBC Golf podcast.

"You've got to walk around with yourself 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And it's more what you're saying to yourself, asking yourself the question.

"You're calling yourself all sorts of names and not achieving the sort of things you think you should achieve."

Spectacular fall from grace

Willett climbed to 9th in the world rankings after becoming the second Englishman to win the Masters, 20 years after Sir Nick Faldo had claimed his third green jacket at Augusta.

However, instead of heralding more success, a spectacular fall from grace followed.

Injuries played their part, with Willett losing his PGA Tour privileges after failing to make the required 15 starts at the end of the 2016-17 season.

His defence of the Masters also ended prematurely - he became the first defending champion to miss the cut since Mike Weir in 2004 after carding seven-over-par from his first two rounds.

He then missed the cut in nine of the first 12 tournaments he entered in 2018, falling as low as 462 in the global standings, before things started to turn around.

"Wins in golf are relatively elusive so even for a good Tour player, winning is a pretty big deal. You try not to base your life around them but that was a special win [Dubai] given how things were going in my golfing life," he said.

"Dubai was one of those weeks where I played some beautiful golf and holed some nice putts."

Augusta beckons

While the Players Championship offers Willett the chance to become only the second Briton to win the event after Sandy Lyle, his focus is also building towards the Masters in April.

The purse at Sawgrass is rumoured to be the biggest ever for a standalone tournament - $12.5m (£9.5m), with the winner pocketing about £1.7m.

But the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club has a distinctive lure.

"For the first time in two years I'm going to enjoy that week," Willett said.

"I went back as defending champion and I was really struggling. My body wasn't very good and I was trying to embrace being a defending champion and played pretty poorly.

"Last year I was close but not quite there. But this year everything is better. The body is better. The mind is better. The game is better. So I'm going to enjoy trying to tame that golf course again and getting focused on trying to compete.

"It's a place I know pretty well and obviously have some very fond memories. It's nice to go back there in the best position I've been in for four years."