You can always rely on a Scot to stir up some excitement on the last day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and this one was no exception as Marc Warren secured his playing privileges for next season by finishing fifth behind Tyrrell Hatton as the Englishman claimed his maiden European Tour victory.
Runner-up in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart earlier in the year, Hatton, a 24-year-old Buckinghamshire man, always looked as though he was going to go one better on this visit to the home of golf after hitting the front with a 10-under-par 62 at St Andrews on Saturday, and did so with a record-equalling performance as he finished with a 23-under-par total of 265.
The breakthrough win earned Hatton a whopping £612,548, lifted him from ninth to fourth in the Race to Dubai and, probably, into the top 35 in the world rankings. It was a victory that had been coming and could open the floodgates. Hatton, after all, looked very comfortable indeed when he finished fifth in this year’s Open Championship at Royal Troon then tenth in the US PGA Championship at Baltusrol.
“It feels amazing,” he admitted after signing off with a six-under-par 66 on the Old Course – his effort there on Saturday equalled the record – to finish four shots ahead of compatriot Ross Fisher (67) and South African Richard Sterne (66) as he became the event’s 15th different winner in its 16 stagings. “I’ve wanted this since I was a six-year-old walking round Wentworth as a spectator at the PGA Championship. This year’s Scottish Open [he finished a shot behind Alex Noren] was an important week for me, getting me into the Open and also securing a US PGA spot. It was the start of something really good and this week has been fantastic, something special.”
Despite holding a three-shot lead at the start and not allowing anyone to eat into that as he reeled off a hat-trick of birdies from the third, Hatton said he’d felt “pretty nervous all day” and had to wait until the final few holes to “start feeling more comfortable”. That followed back-to-back birdies at the 14th and 15th that took him to 24-under, but a bogey at the 17th meant he had to settle for a share of the tournament record winning aggregate with David Howell and Peter Uihlein after they also finished on 265 before the former triumphed in a play-off in 2013.
“I’m so happy that I got over the line,” said Hatton, who was criticised for some of his on-course histrionics at Royal Aberdeen in 2014 when he finished fourth behind Justin Rose in the Scottish Open but has definitely learned to channel his emotions. “I had a new putter [a Ping Oslo] in the bag this week and that worked really well. One of my goals was to get into the top 50 in the world, so I’m looking forward to the text my manager, John, sends me every Monday morning when they are published tomorrow. I’m also looking forward to the British Masters next week and hopefully I can have a good end to the year.”
That view was echoed by Warren after he wrote the latest chapter in this event proving to be a saviour for Scots in terms of hanging on to European Tour cards. The Glaswegian had already penned one of those tales himself in 2011, when he finished fifth to regain the playing privileges he’d lost at the end of the previous season. On this occasion, he arrived here sitting 125th in the Race to Dubai and running out of time to get into the all-important top 110.
God only knows what the 34-year-old was thinking when he started with three birdies at Kingsbarns on Thursday, but what a performance he then produced with his back very much against the wall. In closing with a 67, he finished fifth – his first top 10 in a frustrating season. It earned him £155,832. Up to 70th on the money list, it’s job done in terms of next season.
“I’m very happy, to say the least,” said Warren, who was inside the world’s top 50 18 months ago but had slipped alarmingly to 218th.
A talented individual, he’d perhaps become guilty of trying to get too much technical advice. In the end, the solution that led to this welcome turnaround was solely down to him, though an online purchase that cost him £60 definitely helped.
“There was a technical problem in my swing that put me out of sync, but I saw a training aid online that I thought could help,” said the three-time European Tour winner. “I watched YouTube videos on it and thought this looks ideal for me, why have I not thought of this before. So I went online and bought two of them using [wife] Laura’s Amazon account. They were about £30 each so I can afford to pay her back now – I had to take a loan off her last week.
“I warmed up every day using it and spent 15 minutes a night swinging with it in my hotel room. After that I just felt I could go on the golf course and swing without really thinking about it, which was a big difference, especially coming down the stretch. I know one of the other guys out here, Richard Bland, uses it a lot but the penny never dropped for me to use it before – this week was good timing for it to finally drop.”
While still with some work to do, Craig Lee (pictured inset) also used this event to boost his hopes of retaining a seat at the top table in European golf for another season. The Stirling man signed off with a 68 to finish joint 25th, jumping from 123rd to 108th in the Race to Dubai. If he can make the cut in both the British Masters and Portugal Masters, it should be mission accomplished for him, too.