Following on from a flawless 66 in his first round in England since winning his maiden major title at Augusta, Willett raced to the turn in a tournament record of 29 thanks to six birdies in seven holes from the third. At that stage the world No 9 enjoyed a five-shot lead and was on course to break the 36-hole scoring record of 13 under par, but dropped his first shot of the week on the tenth and also bogeyed the 15th, 16th and 17th to come home in 39.
The 28-year-old’s ten-under-par total of 134 was later matched by first-round joint leaders Scott Hend and YE Yang, with South Africa’s Jaco van Zyl a shot behind in fourth.
Willett’s group was put on the clock for slow play on the back nine and he also had a lucky escape on the 17th when his sunglasses almost fell on his ball in the rough. If they had caused the ball to move, he would have received a one-shot penalty.
“I played great most of the day and then chucked a couple of horrid shots in there,” Willett said. “I had a slow walk from 17 to 18 to try and gather my thoughts and after hitting two lovely shots into the last I came off with a slightly better taste in my mouth.
“You could have just chucked it and finished really poorly, but to make birdie on the last was good and shows a little bit of mental strength.”
Hend completed his 69 in style with an eagle from 18 feet on the 18th, while Yang – who created history in 2009 as the first man to come from behind to beat Tiger Woods in the final round of a major – carded four birdies, an eagle and three bogeys.
“I’d been struggling all day to get the ball over the centre of the club, get it around as best I can,” said Hend. “Came up 18, hit a nice little sliding driver down there and sort of chunked a six iron not as good as I’d like to hit it.
“I was in between six and seven and I took a six and caught it a little bit thick. But it was nicely on the green and knew I had a quick putt, so just hit the putt where I thought it could go and rolled all the way.”
Top of the Scots at Wenthworth are Scott Jamieson, who carded a 71, and David Drysdale, who shot 73. The pair’s one-under par totals of 143 leave them nine shots off the lead. One shot further back are Craig Lee (74), Greig Hutcheon and Richie Ramsay (both 73). No other Scots made the cut which meant early exits for new Ryder Cup vice-captain Paul Lawrie (74), Russell Knox (71), Stephen Gallacher (74), Graham Fox (77), Marc Warren (72) and Scott Drummond (77).