Golf News: Danny Willett celebrated his 34th birthday by winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship for the first time in over two years.
Willett’s final-round 68 at St Andrews was enough to secure a two-shot triumph over Ryder Cup stars Tyrrell Hatton and Shane Lowry, who were unable to cut their overnight three-shot disadvantage.
The former Masters champion got off to a fantastic start under sunny skies, making three birdies in the first five holes, and he added more shots on either side of the turn before finishing safely at 18 under par.
That score was enough to earn Willett his first victory since the European Tour’s flagship BMW PGA Championship in 2019 when he had slumped to 170th in the world rankings while also dealing with a host of injuries.
Willett’s disastrous 2021 season has seen him test positive for Covid-19 in March, have a wisdom tooth extracted in April, and be rushed to the hospital immediately after playing at The Memorial in June, suffering from appendicitis and a problematic hernia that he had removed.
But the discomfort was a distant memory as he methodically plotted his way around the Old Course, which he played in 10 under par for 36 holes over the weekend, with his sole bogey coming on the fourth hole on Sunday.
With Lagergren in the clubhouse after a 66 put him at 16 under, Willetts overcame the dreaded 17th with one of his best shots of the season, a daring mid-iron to 20 feet for a stress-free par that allowed him to enjoy the victory stroll across the last fairway.
“It’s been a good week,” said an emotional Willett, who has only been in the top ten once this year, in Puerto Rico in March. “Things have been going well. The results haven’t been there yet, but deep down inside, things are getting near.
“And I’ve always maintained that if I get a sniff, I’m usually fine. Today was a good example of it. The scoring was relatively modest on that first nine, but we were able to fend off a few players and play really great defence on the back half.
“This is significant. Yes, it has been a fairly typical year. We said we’d scrap 2021, but fingers crossed now that we’ve got six, seven tournaments remaining until we put the clubs down at Christmas, and hopefully, we can continue on from here.”
Hatton finished his bogey-free 67 with his fifth birdie of the day at the 18th, tying him for second with Lagergren, with Lowry and the evergreen Richard Bland sharing the final podium spot on 15 under par.
“I’m pleased with how I performed,” said Hatton, a two-time winner. “It was probably the best my game felt of the four days, but I didn’t hole a lot of putts.” I’ll probably look back on that with some resentment.
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