Hatton Crowned King of the Links as Fisher Brings Old Course to its Knees
ON A day of sensational low scoring, Tyrrell Hatton became the first man to successfully defend the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, holding off the challenge of Ross Fisher, who broke the Old Course record at St Andrews.
Hatton entered the day with a five-shot lead and eventually defeated fellow Englishman Fisher by three shots as he reached 24 under par. Fisher made 11 birdies in a stunning 61 on an unforgettable day that saw both players enter the history books.
Fisher's 11 under par effort was the second time an Open Championship venue saw its course record broken during the week after Tommy Fleetwood fired a 63 at Carnoustie on Friday.
Hatton shot rounds of 68-65-65-66 gave him his second European Tour title and he became just the fourth man after Curtis Strange, Trevor Immelman and Thongchai Jaidee to successfully defend a trophy for his first two wins. He also becomes just the second player to win the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship twice after Padraig Harrington and has completed a remarkable return to form after making just two of nine cuts between The Masters and US PGA Championship.
He almost made the worst possible start to his final round, looking on in disbelief as his approach to the first finished in the water. But he knew that it was his day when he dropped the ball and watched his pitch disappear into the hole for a par.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," he said. "It felt so much harder than last year, maybe that's just a bit more pressure on myself but I'm so happy that I managed to defend it and what a great week again. "I think the format is helping me, playing with Jamie (Dornan) we have good fun out there and it sort of keeps me relaxed which is what I need to do. We've just had good fun, I think that is what this tournament is about.
"I didn't see a leaderboard until the 16th green and I saw he was on 21 and that certainly made the 17th tee-shot seem a bit harder. What a great round of golf from Fish, it's amazing. He pushed me all the way and I was very happy to get over the line."
It is the second year in a row that Fisher has finished second at this event and he was four shots clear of Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, who carded a 63. Dubuisson reached the turn in 29 and was eight under par for his round after 11 holes. He also did enough to secure his card for next season.
Hatton put his second shot of the day into the Swilcan Burn but chipped in for par and birdied the second and third before holing a six-footer on the fourth and a tap-in on the par five fifth for a seven-shot lead. At that point he was on cruise control.
Fisher made four birdies in a row from the second, holed a huge putt at the seventh, a 15-footer on the eighth and took advantage of the short ninth to turn in 29 but when Hatton birdied the same hole, he led by six with nine to play. Fisher then birdied the 12th, 13th 14th and 15th to keep alive the possibility of the first 59 on the European Tour. Hatton also took advantage of the 14th. Fisher did well to save par at the treacherous Road Hole, the 17th, and left himself an eagle from the Valley of Sin for a 59, but he took three putts.
"To go out and shoot a score like that with no bogeys, I just saw the lines and was hitting good putts and they were going in," said Fisher.
"You almost want to keep going and I didn't want it to end. At the home of golf I wanted to try and give that putt on the last a try for 59 and just came up a bit shy.
"Unfortunately I've got to sign for a 61 but I'll definitely take it. I just wanted to come out here and put in a good performance and, if I could, try and repeat last year finishing tied second. Unfortunately Tyrrell was too far ahead. I managed to give him a little bit to think about coming down the stretch."
Dubuisson joined Fisher in turning in 29 with birdies on the second and third and five in a row from the fifth, and when he also made gains on the 11th, 14th and 15th, he was on the brink of history. A bogey on the 16th halted that but he still achieved his best result of the season.
Countryman Grégory Bourdy, England's Robert Rock and Scot Marc Warren were then ten shots behind the winner, with English trio Luke Donald, Oliver Fisher and Eddie Pepperell, Ireland's Paul Dunne and Frenchman Alexander Levy at 13 under.
Jamie Donaldson and Kieran McManus combined for a closing 56 to get to 40 under and win the team event by three shots.
You wait months for a successful title defence and then, from nowhere, you get two on the same day. While Hatton was retaining his title at St Andrews, Brendan Steele was doing precisely the same thing in the Safeway Open at Silverado.
In tough conditions, Steele shot a three-under-par 69 – one of just seven rounds in the 60s – to overturn a two-stroke deficit. He finished at 15 under, two ahead of Tony Finau, whose double bogey at the 14th hole cost him a chance to force a playoff.
After playing the front nine bogey free for the third straight day, Steele grabbed the lead and then recovered from a couple of bogeys with crucial birdies at the par-five 16th and 18th holes.
Finau was 14 under when he headed to the 14th hole, but his drive finished under a tree, forcing him to punch out. He only managed to hit six fairways all day, but was happy enough with his finish.“Honestly I was happy with the way I hung in there,” Finau said. “I didn’t feel great over the ball. I didn’t hit a lot of quality shots off the tee coming in like I needed to.”
Phil Mickelson shot a 2-under 70 to finish tied for third at 12 under, while 54-hole leader Tyler Duncan finished in a tie for fifth after a disappointing 75.
Steele said that the playing conditions made club selection difficult. "You can’t just figure out your shot a minute before you play it while somebody else is hitting because it changes by the time that comes up,” Steele said about the windy conditions. “So you have to have a sense as you’re getting into it whether you’ve got the right club or not. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Today it did.”
After winning this tournament 12 months ago, Steele maintained his position in the FedExCup standings for the entire season but failed to make the 30-man field at the Tour Championship. He says that instead of trying to win tournaments, he was simply trying to make cuts and gain points, and he is determined not to make that mistake again.
“I really felt like at the end of the season through the summer, I definitely limited myself to what I was trying to achieve,” Steele said. “I just wanted to make the Tour Championship so bad, I was just trying to scratch and claw for every point I could. I wasn’t trying to win. I wasn’t trying to play my best. I was just trying to get whatever points I could – and I played right to that level where you could just barely miss.
“I’m definitely going to try to not do that this year and just really move forward and try to win as many tournaments as I can and get myself into contention in majors and do all the things that everybody wants to do out here.”
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