Alfred Dunhill Links Preview, Picks & Analysis
YOU KNOW the summer is well and truly over when you switch on the TV and struggle to recognise golfers hidden under woollen hats, wearing umpteen layers of clothing and gloves to keep any sort of feeling in their fingers. It can only be the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, playing at St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie. Who knows? They may get lucky with the weather and the sun may crack the flags for four days. Or they may not.
Either way, several members of the European and American Ryder Cup teams will be looking to get back to business as normal after wearing their hearts on their sleeves for three days in Paris. The organisers have pulled off something of a coup by securing Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau. Koepka, of course, successfully defended his US Open title before going on to win the US PGA Championship, pipping Tiger Woods by a single shot. And it was the challenge of England’s Tommy Fleetwood that he held off at the US Open. Fleetwood, you may remember, negotiated Carnoustie in 63 strokes during this tournament 12 months ago - a score that boggles the mind of anybody who has ever played the course.
Fleetwood does, of course, have a habit of producing very low scores. And the harder the course, the better he seems to play. He is coming towards the end of another incredible season and still has the air of a man who cannot quite believe everything that has happened to him. He is one of the game’s good guys, as anybody who follows him on Twitter will know. When Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship, it was patiently obvious that Fleetwood was genuinely thrilled for him, telling his followers that we should all feel privileged to be witnessing the most unlikely comeback in golf. There are many who will feel privileged to be watching everything that Fleetwood is achieving. He won the Race to Dubai last season and would dearly love to do so again and, with some big-money tournaments coming up, he could easily overtake Francesco Molinari at the top of the rankings, the man who he paired with so brilliantly at Le Golf National.
What Koepka and Finau will make of the conditions they will face is anybody’s guess. These are two young men who play all their golf in glorious weather and on courses that are set up for target golf. St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns in October could hardly represent a more different sort of challenge. Both these guys hit the ball vast distances and it is possible that they could bring the Old Course to its knees if they can steer clear of the bunkers and get their heads around the vagaries of the vast double greens.
Although it is Koepka who has rightly grabbed all the headlines after winning three majors, Finau has shown a level of consistency that has surprised many onlookers. It is easy to dismiss him as being just another PGA Tour bomber. He is far more than that. Finau has achieved a bucketload of top-10 finishes as a result of possessing a wonderful short game, and it would be a huge surprise if he doesn’t another one of those this week.
Koepka has played in this event before but not since 2015, when he was runner-up to Thorbjorn Olesen, another who played in the Ryder Cup. "I’m delighted to be coming back to the Alfred Dunhill Links, and of course to play once again at St Andrews. Last time I played in the Dunhill it was with my dad Bob, and it was a few days I will never forget,” Koepka said. "Being able to do that at the Home of Golf in such a prestigious competition with the great Scottish galleries was a unique moment for both of us.”
It does seem rather surprising that having failed to take an advance look at Le Golf National, where the Ryder Cup was played out last week, Finau and Koepka are happy to take part in this glorified pro-am, albeit one that is played on three of the finest courses in Europe.
Tyrrell Hatton will be aiming to win the tournament for a third successive year after becoming the first man to successfully defend the title last year. It was won in 2011 by Michael Hoey, in 2012 by Branden Grace during his breakthrough season on the European Tour, in 2013 by David Howell, in 2014 by Oliver Wilson, in 2015 by Olesen and by Hatton in 2016 and 2017.
Hatton and fellow Englishman Ross Fisher produced some fireworks in 2017. Fisher broke the course record at the Old Course on an incredible day. At one point it seemed that he might break the magical 60 barrier as he recorded 11 birdies in a 61. Hatton also entered the record books as he finished the week on 24 under par after rounds of 68, 65, 65 and 66 - it 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.
“It was an unbelievable feeling," he said. "It felt so much harder than 2016, 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. The format is helping me, playing with Jamie [actor 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 that Ross was on 21 under 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."
Also among the entries are major champions Martin Kaymer, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Louis Oosthuizen and Graeme McDowell, plus Spain’s Miguel Ángel Jiménez, winner of the Senior Open in July.
Tony Finau. Wonderful short game
Tommy Fleetwood. What a year he is having
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Man with a point to prove
Tony Finau. Hoping to build on impressive singles victory at Le Golf National
Tommy Fleetwood. On a huge high after the Ryder Cup
Matthew Fitzpatrick. One of Europe’s best young golfers
Brooks Koepka. Determined to put Le Golf National behind him as quickly as possible
Tyrrell Hatton. Third win on the trot? Stranger things have happened
Matt Wallace. Has had a memorable season
Louis Oosthuizen. Loves the Old Course
Padraig Harrington. Showing signs there is plenty of life in the old dog yet
Eddie Pepperell. Narrowly missed out on Paris
Thorbjørn Olesen. Hugely underrated
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