But instead of making the most of the opportunity, Willis choked and fired a 6-over 77 to fall out of contention and barely make the weekend. So when his name showed up near the top of the leaderboard on Friday, nobody was sure how things would turn out -- not even Willis.
You see, Willis has a problem; he can't seem to follow his own game plan. "That's kind of where I faltered in my professional career is not sticking to a game plan," Willis said after the second round. "I have a great game plan every week but sticking to it is a totally different story."
Sticking to the plan has been Willis' achilles heel for the last ten years. After winning the 2001 Tuscon Open, his only tour victory, Willis immediately fell off the map, missing the cut in 20 of his next 32 events and posting only one top 10 finish in the next three years.
It was the kind of tailspin you'd expect from a guy struggling with his game, not from someone coming off the biggest moment in their career. But instead of calling time and walking away with his lone tour title, Willis fought his way back, winning on the Nationwide Tour in 2009 to return to the PGA Tour last season.
Even though he's missed four cuts to start this season, Willis could turn 2011 into one to remember with a victory in Tampa. Last year, Jim Furyk broke a two year tour drought in Tampa and went on to win the FedEx Cup. Who knows, maybe Willis can break a ten year drought and get his career back on track. He just needs to make sure he sticks to the game plan.