Speaking as he prepared for another title defence, having used his triumph in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic 12 months ago to build the confidence that enabled him to become the first Briton to pull on a Green Jacket for 20 years, the Yorkshireman said he believed there should be no residual effect from the controversial comments made by his brother, Peter, in the week of the Hazeltine contest.
“What, me playing bad? I think they will welcome me with open arms,” said Willett as he initially took a jocular tone at Emirates Golf Club, where he will be partnered by the event’s star attraction, two-time winner Tiger Woods, and DP World Tour Championship winner Matt Fitzpatrick in the opening two rounds. “Playing terrible, giving them a few points, I think they’ll be all right with that.”
“No,” he added on a more serious note. “I feel like I’ve had a very good relationship with the American fans for a long, long time. The Ryder Cup tainted things a little bit, but I think people realise that the things said were obviously not mine. So there shouldn’t be any issues. You’d hope not, anyway. People might, but, if they do, that’s their choice. Let’s hope it doesn’t go there, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
On arriving in Dubai, Woods took advantage of European Tour rules in order to wear shorts as he hit some wedges on the range before undertaking promotional work, including a helicopter tour in the company of Peter Dawson, the former R&A chief executive who is overseeing golf’s growth in Dubai in a consultancy role.