That took the 59-year-old to just a shot off the early pace now being set by American Scott Piercy, who had recovered from a bogey on the first with birdies on the second, fourth and seventh.
McIlroy had bogeyed the first for the second day in succession, which possibly accounted for the wind-assisted 393-yard drive which he then smashed down the second.
For those of you who already play golf, try and learn how the players cope with the pressure of playing in a major. Willett ended his day on a sour note, three-jacking at the hard par-4 18th.
Willett, the second Englishman after Nick Faldo to don the Green Jacket, will propose a toast to four-times Masters champion Palmer, who died previous year at the age of 87. "Then we played in the Olympics and we were in the Ryder Cup and we ended up playing about 32 events previous year".
As defending champion, Willett gets to decide what's on the menu for his fellow green jacket winners and other leading players at the traditional evening meal ahead of the tournament.
This season, Willett has finished 69 and 75 and missed the cut in three PGA Tour events and placed 54 and missed the cut in two European Tour events. We've got 11 of us in the field this week.
"It is tricky", Willett said.
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Favourite Dustin Johnson is part of an all-American trio also comprising two-time Masters victor Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker, while Olympic champion Justin Rose is set to play alongside world No3 Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker in another high-profile group. "You feel like you should be able to, and you've done it once, why can't you do it every time you play?" "Last year, to be able to do what I did on the Sunday of a Major, was pretty special". Since the tournament started, only three players won as rookies, including the first champion Horton Smith in 1934. "I'm still a Masters champion".
A win for Fitzpatrick would be less surprising than that of Willett a year ago.
"Much has changed since I was here last what with getting married and now having a son but so far he's been great".
"I think the last 12 months has made me a little more impatient", said Willett, smiling.
The 26-year-old was a lowly 188th in the world rankings at the start of September 2016, but winning the Abu Dhabi Championship in January and finishing second to world No 1 Dustin Johnson in the WGC-Mexico Championship have helped Fleetwood climb to a career-high 32nd.
"Unfortunately - well, not unfortunately, with how things went - we had a lot of things to do when we got back from Augusta and then we played a little bit more. I don't think it's necessarily watching, but making sure you're doing your homework and you know what you're doing".