Booed on the first tee by a partisan American crowd, the Sheffield golfer demonstrated his trademark composure with a fine drive.
And he completed the hole with a stunning distance putt for birdie to bring cheers from fans at Hazeltine who had met his arrival minutes earlier with grumbles.
Willett was omitted from the morning foursomes – along with fellow Sheffielder Matt Fitzpatrick – bringing questions for captain Darren Clarke over whether his decision was due to the reaction the 28-year-old may receive.
The Masters champion was placed firmly in the spotlight after his brother wrote anti-American comments in a column for a golf publication, delivering Clarke and his team an unwanted headache.
Clarke denied the controversy influenced his decision, saying he wanted to keep Willett fresh.
Both Willett and Fitzpatrick could only watch in frustration as Europe suffered a 4-0 whitewash in the foursomes, leaving the visiting team with plenty to do in order to retain the trophy.
The Americans have never lost a Ryder Cup on home soil after winning the opening session.
But the European team made a good fist at changing history with a superb response in the afternoon fourballs in Minnesota.
Willett was given the nod for the third match alongside Martin Kaymer, facing Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka.
Unfortunately for Willett – who turns 29 on Monday – it was the only match which the United States team kept a handle on as Europe roared back.
After Willett’s heroics with the putter on the first secured a half, he and Kaymer could only play catch-up as the Americans surged ahead.
By the time Willett showed another magic touch from distance on the green on nine, he was clawing back the US lead to three up.
But Koepka and Snedeker moved to five up by the close of the 11th and were heading for another point.
And it was secured with a half on 14, seeing Willett and Kaymer on the wrong end of a 5&4 score.
But the tone for the European revival had been set by opening pair Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson.
Olympic gold medalist Rose and Open champion Stenson had lost their unbeaten record as a pair in the Ryder Cup in the foursomes but recovered in stunning fashion.
The pair produced a total of eight birdies as they roared to a 5&4 win over Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.
Spanish pairing Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello were also dominant against JB Holmes and Ryan Moore, not dropping a hole until the 14th.
And Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters always had the edge against Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, helping Europe recover from an apparent dire position back into contention.
Fitzpatrick will be hoping his Ryder Cup bow comes in Saturday’s pairings before he must play in the singles on Sunday.