Birthday boy Danny Willett wins Alfred Dunhill Links Championship

As birthdays go, Danny Willett’s 34th one was pretty special. He’d have taken winning at St Andrews any day, but to achieve the feat on this particular one in the 20th Alfred Dunhill Links Championship was something to cherish.

Danny Willett poses with the trophy on the Swilcan Bridge at St Andrews after winning the 20th Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Picture: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images.

“It's a fabulous place,” said the Englishman of the scene of his eighth European Tour triumph, having signed off with a four-under 68 on the Old Course to claim a two-shot victory with an 18-under-par 270 total. “Yeah, to be British and to win here at the home of golf, this is a very special one.”

Given that he’d only recorded one top-10 finish on either the European Tour or PGA Tour this year, Willett admitted that his return to winning ways probably felt to some people that it had “come quite out of the blue”.

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But the Yorkshireman, who had Covid at one point earlier in the year, as well issues with his wisdom teeth and appendix, said he’d been encouraged by how he’d been practising at home and “and the inner belief I have every time I get in a position to do something was proven again.”

That was a reference to him having a history of landing big wins. The 2016 Masters, of course, was the biggest of all, but his name is also on the rolls of honour for the DP World Tour Championship (2018) and the BMW PGA Championship (2019).

“It is pleasing,” he said of that knack. “It would be nice to do it more often. But, by the same token, for anyone to win eight times in their career means you’ve had a good career. You can’t complain.

“I’ve been working hard at home the last few months and I felt a good run could be coming. The consistency level has eluded me since 2016, but, in saying that, if someone had said I’d win three big tournaments since The Masters I would have taken it.”

Leading by three shots at the start of the day, Willett was never really challenged during the final circuit in the $5.5 million event. He holed from off green at the 10th for a birdie before making a good up and down at 11. Eight more pars coming home and it was job done in a windy denouement to the event’s 20th staging.

Two-time winner Tyrrell Hatton (67) shared second spot with Swede Joakim Lagergren (66) with 2019 Open champion Shane Lowry and British Masters champion Richard Bland a shot further back after they both closed with 68s.

“It's an interesting golf course,” said Willett, who is expected to jump from 170th to around 96th in the updated world rankings on the back of a win worth £580,000. “It gives you ways out. If you are nervous, you aim down the left on any hole you want.

“But, if you're out of position a little bit too much, you can't get to a few of the flags. It was nice to step up on a few of them on that back nine and put them in A1 position.”

Willett finished sixth behind Zach Johnson in the 2015 Open here and is now looking forward to his next visit for the 150th staging of the Claret Jug event in July.

“I enjoy the setup for The Open,” he said. “This week, I've not done that great because usually the scoring is low and the weather has not been as bad; this week the scoring was low and the weather was still pretty bad. I just played some good golf.”

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