Alfred Dunhill Links Preview, Picks & Analysis
IN THE words of Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary manager of Manchester United, we are approaching “squeaky bum time” as the European Tour arrives on the east coast of Scotland for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. This is traditionally the time of year when we see Europe’s finest wrapped up against the elements as they compete alongside a star-studded cast of amateurs. But there is some serious business too and, for some, the threat of losing their playing privileges as time begins to run out.
More of that later, as the fans who gain free admission over the first three days get the chance to watch some of the leading lights of the European Tour, led by world number two Rory McIlroy, the winner of three tournaments on the PGA Tour in 2019 and, surprisingly, named PGA Tour Player of the Year. Even McIlroy would admit that he was shocked to received that accolade in a year during which Brooks Koepka won the US PGA Championship and contended in the other three majors.
McIlroy had a pretty torrid time of it in the majors, but did manage to win the Players Championship, Canadian Open and Tour Championship, along with the FedEx Cup and the $15m bonus prize that went along with that. He says he has had a good year, and it is difficult to argue with him, but you can be certain that he would have swapped all of those victories for a fifth major. It wasn’t to be, and after finishing second in the European Masters at Crans sur Sierre and ninth in the BMW PGA Championship, he is now turning his attention to the Race to Dubai.
The Northern Irishman can make huge inroads with a victory in Scotland, and he says that he cannot wait.
“I’m really looking forward to it. It’s an event I always enjoy,” he said. "I love links golf and the three courses we play are some of the best and most famous in the world. With a bit of luck, maybe I can finally win it this year. I’ve come very close a few times and it would mean a lot to me.”
McIlroy has had a close relationship with the Alfred Dunhill Links over the years. In 2007, at 18, he became the youngest player to earn a European Tour card from tournament play when he finished third. He also finished second in 2009, 2011 and 2014, the year in which, in the Team Championship, he played alongside his father Gerry, who was celebrating his 55th birthday.
McIlroy added: “It was great fun playing with my Dad. He has been such a rock for me over the years. We made it through to the final day and had such a good time coming down the stretch together on the Old Course. It was a very special moment.”
Tommy Fleetwood, who has finished runner-up twice in the Alfred Dunhill Links and was second in The Open at Royal Portrush in July, will also be back. Fleetwood said: “I’ve always loved the Old Course, and St Andrews, ever since I played the Links Trophy as an amateur. There are places in the town where there are pictures of guys sitting on the Swilken Bridge with the Dunhill trophy. I’ve come so close, I would love to have my picture up there as well.”
Musician, actor and avid golfer Justin Timberlake will tee it up for the first time in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship alongside Justin Rose, another with good memories of this tournament, having finished runner-up in 2007.
Timberlake, a ten-time Grammy award-winning musician and four-time Emmy award-winning actor, has sold more than 32m albums and 56m singles, making him one of the most popular artists on the planet. He has been named twice by Time magazine as one the 100 most influential people in the world.
They are joined by two-time Alfred Dunhill Links winner Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els, Graeme McDowell, double Alfred Dunhill Links champion Tyrrell Hatton and Lee Westwood, winner in 2003, who showed what a rich vein of form he is in when he finished fourth in The Open.
A powerful group of English golfers, including Ross Fisher, who finished second in 2016 and 2017, when he set the Old Course record of 61, Eddie Pepperell, Matt Wallace, who finished third in this year’s US PGA Championship, and Luke Donald are in the field, along with defending champion Lucas Bjerregaard of Denmark.
With a prize fund of $5m, the Alfred Dunhill Links incorporates two separate competitions - an individual professional tournament for the world's leading golfers and the Team Championship, in which the pros are paired with amateur players, creating a unique atmosphere and camaraderie. Oh, and five-hour rounds!
Among the amateurs in the field are sporting legends such as Sir Steve Redgrave, Kevin Pietersen, Shane Warne, Luis Figo, Ruud Gullit, Jamie Redknapp, Andriy Shevchenko and AP McCoy, plus TV and showbiz stars Ronan Keating and Piers Morgan. Admission is free over the first three days with final day tickets on Sunday, September 29 available to purchase at the entrance gates for £20.
Open champion Shane Lowry continues to lead the Race to Dubai, with the likes of Bernd Wiesberger, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Matt Wallace and Matthew Fitzpatrick in his slipstream. But it is a different story at the other end. The top 110 players will keep their playing rights, but there are several well-known players who still need big weeks to secure their futures. They include Nicolas Colsaerts, Jamie Donaldson, Peter Hanson, Gregory Havret, Michael Hoey, Lee Slattery, Ross Fisher and Gonzalo Ferndandez-Castano. Those looking over their shoulders include Matthew Southgate, Callum Shinkwin and Victor Dubuisson. Of course, one good week can change everything, but the longer these guys go without that big performance, the harder life becomes.
The Dunhill was won in 2011 by Michael Hoey, in 2012 by Branden Grace, in 2013 by David Howell, in 2014 by Oliver Wilson, in 2015 by Thorbjorn Olesen, in 2016 and 2017 by Tyrrell Hatton and last year by Lucas Bjerregaard.
Justin Rose. Would love to win here
Rory McIlroy. Will be there or thereabouts
Tyrrell Hatton. Just adores this tournament
Justin Rose. Looking for yet another big week
Rory McIlroy. Will relish playing with his father, Gerry
Tyrrell Hatton. Looking for big finish to the year
Eddie Pepperell. Not having a vintage year but that could all change
Matt Wallace. Ready for another victory
Graeme McDowell. Has shown some encouraging signs this season
Shane Lowry. Loves links golf - obviously!
Lucas Bjerregaard. Defending champions tend to do well here
Tommy Fleetwood. These courses are made for him
Jon Rahm. Always seems to be in the mix
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