Dunhill Links specialist Tyrrell Hatton is out in front once again

It used to be woolly hats and mitts that made you realise the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship had come around on the European Tour. But now it’s become the sight of Tyrrell Hatton’s name at the top of the leaderboard.

Tyrrell Hatton and his dad Jeff during day two of the 20th Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at Kingsbarns. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images.

The Englishman was triumphant in the event in 2016 and 2017 - the only player to have landed the prize back-to-back - before finishing second in 2018. After two rounds in the 2021 edition, he’s up there again.

Enjoying being back in a calm environment after having to endure a week of whooping and hollering from US fans at Whistling Straits on his second Ryder Cup appearance, Hatton, in fact, leads the way.

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Helped by a hot putter, he’d taken full advantage of getting Carnoustie on a fairly benign day on Thursday to open with an eight-under 64. In a howling wind on day two, the 29-year-old added a two-under 70 at Kingsbarns.

Heading to St Andrews for his third round before everything starts to properly unravel in the event’s 20th staging, Hatton leads by one from fellow Englishman Daniel Gavins, who secured his lofty position with a splendid 68 at Carnoustie.

Former Masters champion Danny Willett sits a further shot back alongside China’s Haotong Li, with Tommy Fleetwood and Dane Jeff Winther both on seven-under, but Hatton looks in the mood here once again.

“Yeah, it was really tough out there,” he said after signing for five birdies, two of which came in his last four holes. “We had a lot of cross winds. It seemed as though you were getting a little bit of hurt one second then a little bit of help the next.

“That makes it so hard to get the club right and, when you do finally get to the green, it is so hard that you just want to two-putt and get out of there.

“I’m pretty happy about how I fought. I didn’t get off to the ideal start (with a bogey) and, after I made a birdie, it seemed I’d go and make a bogey within two holes and not really get any momentum. So it was nice to finish fairly strong over the last five holes.”

On days like this, top players know when they’ve hit a particularly good shot. “I think the 8-iron I hit into the seventh, which was our 16th,” said Hatton in picking out his best one.

“In the warm up this morning, the wind was into off the left, which is a horrible range to hit off, and I feel as though I lost a lot of my shots left today as a result of covering it more than any other day. To hit that 8-iron into 15 feet and leave myself a nice uphill putt was nice, especially as I felt I wasn’t swinging it that great.”

Hatton is enjoying the opportunity to team up with his dad and coach, Jeff, for the first time in one of his favourite events. “Because it doesn’t feel as stressful as a normal tournament, that probably helps guys to come and play this week after a Ryder Cup,” he said.

“It’s a good set up here and we are well looked after. I especially like the little donuts they have - they are dangerous (laughing).”

How had it been for him at Whistling Straits with a boisterous US crowd? “To be honest, I didn’t hear too much. There wasn’t really any abuse thrown at me. Not what I heard anyway.

“You had the standard comments. If you were teeing off, guys would be saying ‘water on the left’ before you hit your shot or ‘water on the right’. Supid stuff like that.

“The only bad stuff I had was a guy opening a can at the top of my backswing on 15 on Saturday afternoon. It is what it is.

“I am sure Emily, my wife, heard some things they said about me, but I personally didn’t hear anything. You expect a hostile atmosphere when you play a Ryder Cup away and obviously they created that.

“But, aside from that, I can’t really be too negative because, when we play a hom Ryder Cup and they miss a putt, our fans cheer, too. We can’t be negative towards that when it is the same over here. I think that is the fairest way to put it.”

Willett lost a ball in his second round at Kingsbarns but, with helped by an eagle at the third - his 12th hole - the Englishman was also pleased with his day’s work in the testing conditions, signing for a 69.

“The 2-iron into 3 was lovely,” he said of his best blow. “You have got to hit a low, hooky shot to get right-up the bank. Ripping it down the middle on nine was a good shot as it’s not always an easy tee shot.

“I gave myself opportunities to get it real close on the par-5s and give myself some nice chances. Some of those holes down the coast – 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 – are a real tough run, so it was nice to get through them in one-over, which I don’t think was too terrible.”

Like Hatton, Fleetwood looks determined to use this week to quickly shrug off the disappointment of ending up on the team to suffer the heaviest defeat in a Ryder Cup.

“I played amazing,” he said of a 71, also at Kingsbarns. “I missed two greens, one of them the first hole of the day and that was by a tee-shot. I had complete control of my ball. One-under feels like the worst it could have been.”

Ewen Ferguson, who felt he was “grinding” all day for his 73 at Carnoustie, is the leading Scot on six-under, one ahead of 2004 winner Stephen Gallacher and Richie Ramsay after they carded 68 and 72 respectively at St Andrews.

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