The Ryder Cup factor did indeed prove decisive in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Just not the way we expected. In the end, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood, two members of Europe’s winning team in France a week earlier, were upstaged by someone who was at Le Golf National as a spectator. Step forward Dane Lucas Bjerregaard, who battled both cold conditions and a strengthening wind to close with a five-under 67 on the Old Course at St Andrews to claim a dramatic one-shot victory.
Hatton, bidding to make it a hat-trick of wins in this event after already being the first player to triumph in it back-to-back, held a five-shot lead at one point in the final round of the £3.85 million pro am. The Englishman was still four shots clear of the field at the turn before the wheels came off a bit on the back nine. Knocked off balance by a gust of wind, he missed from 12 feet at the last to force a play-off. Fleetwood had shaved the hole from around eight feet moments earlier when he had an opportunity to do likewise.
In Hatton’s case, it seemed that he had perhaps run out of gas after the exertions of a Ryder Cup. Fleetwood was probably a bit fatigued, too, when he dropped a couple of late shots at St Andrews in Saturday’s third round. In comparison, Bjerregaard came in here feeling fresh. Inspired, too, after watching his compatriot, Thorbjorn Olesen, beat three-time major winner Jordan Spieth in the singles in Paris to help Europe pull off a resounding 17½-10½ victory. Another Dane, Thomas Bjorn, captained that team, of course.
“I’ve never been to a Ryder Cup before, but Thomas invited me down on Saturday, so I went,” said Bjerregaard after finishing with a 15-under-par 273 total as he picked up a first prize of just over £600,000. “He showed me around in what was a busy week for him and I saw the team room and the locker room and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t inspired. I was delighted for Thomas and being around it was amazing to see. I was so delighted for him, but I was definitely inspired and definitely want to make that team one day.”
Bjerregaard joined Olesen, the 2015 winner, in claiming this title. It was the 27-year-old’s second European Tour win, having made the breakthrough in the Portugal Masters just over 12 months ago. The Aalborg man arrived in Scotland in good fettle, having chalked up three top-ten finishes in his previous four outings. That run included finishing second to Matt Fitzpatrick after a play-off in the European Masters in Switzerland.
Like Olesen, Bjerregaard is coached by Surrey-based Scot Hugh Marr. He was steered around the three courses used for this event by Jonathan Smart, who caddied for Danny Willett when he won The Masters in 2016.
“It was a great day and one of the best rounds I’ve played all year,” admitted Bjerregaard of his closing effort, which contained six birdies. “I’ve played well recently and come close a few times. I lost a play-off in Switzerland which hurt, so this feels really good and I’ll enjoy this one no doubt.
“I was looking at all the boards and it didn’t look like I had much of a chance. It looked as if Tyrrell was going to run away with it, but we knew the back nine would play tough and if I could get a few birdies I could have a chance and I didn’t force it.”
On a day when an early shotgun start was implemented due to high winds being forecast for the afternoon, Hatton started out with a one-shot lead. It looked to be game over when he then reeled off four birdies in a row from the third to spreadeagle the field. No-one saw his back-nine collapse coming, to be honest. Back-to-back bogeys at the tenth and 11th opened the door for the closing pack. His outright lead was gone after another dropped shot at the 15th. The writing was on the wall, really, when he also bogeyed the next.
“My momentum completely went after the tee shot on ten,” said Hatton of that ending up in an awkward spot in a fairway bunker. “For some reason, I just couldn’t seem to do anything right. Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen for me on the back nine. I guess my putt on the last to get in the play-off sums it up, really. Just a massive gust of wind knocks me off my balance, which is unfortunate. I’m pretty disappointed. I had a five-shot lead at one point – it was in my hands. Finishing second is a good effort, but it would have been pretty special to have three in a row.”
Once Stephen Gallacher and Marcus Fraser, who were playing in the same group as Hatton dropped away, Fleetwood was the only other title contender on the back nine. Long and left with his approach at the 17th, last year’s Race to Dubai winner made a great up and down to stay in it. He thought he’d made his birdie putt at the last but, to his amazement, it stayed out on the high side.
In fairness, both Hatton and Fleetwood deserved credit for performing as well as they did straight after a Ryder Cup. “The hysteria goes on for quite a while,” said Fleetwood, who picked up four points out of four in tandem with Francesco Molinari. “But we sat down on Tuesday and talked about resetting and getting back on with what we need to do to keep improving and what we need to do to win again. This is only week one. We’ve still got a bit to go.”