It’s a case of Dunhill Links deja vu. Tyrell Hatton leads heading into the final round of the $5 million pro-am event for the second year running. With a five-shot cushion after moving to 18-under-par on the back of a second successive 65, the Englishman is on course to become the first player in the event’s 16-year history to secure this prize back-to-back.
“I think I saw Tweets earlier on in the week that no-one’s defended it yet,” confessed the 25-year-old Marlow man after signing for seven birdies in a bogey-free effort at Kingsbarns, having done exactly the same thing at Carnoustie on Friday. “I’ve put myself in a good position to do that tomorrow. It would be amazing to win again at the home of golf. It would be so special, and I’ll certainly try my best to make that happen.”
If he does, Hatton will no doubt feel that he will have answered Gary Evans, the former professional who finished fifth at the 2002 Open Championship at Muirfield, in the best possible way.
Last Sunday, Evans took to social media to criticise his compatriot over his behaviour during the final round of the British Masters, which Hatton led at halfway following opening scores of 63 and 65 at Close House, before ending up eighth behind Irishman Paul Dunne. “You’re a great talent with potential but you need to grow up mate,” Evans tweeted Hatton. “Your on-course whinging and body language is a disgrace.”
During the 2014 Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen, Hatton’s histrionics also led to him being scolded by TV commentators. But he’s not for changing his ways. “I’m a passionate person and I just try my best to win a golf tournament,” he said in his pre-event press conference earlier in the week. “Occasionally that spills over, and I’m human. I’m going to make mistakes from time to time. Nobody’s perfect and, in the heat of battle, sometimes you can do the wrong thing. That’s just how it is.”
In fairness, Evans is spot on about Hatton in terms of talent. Following a bright start to the year, he went off the boil after firing 80-78 to make an early exit from the Masters before also missing the cut in the other three majors. But he’s back firing on all cylinders again, having tied for third in the European Masters in Switzerland before being in the mix again in the British Masters and now setting up this golden chance to earn a place in the record books.
“I played really good again today,” reflected Hatton on having burst away from his fellow overnight leader, Tommy Fleetwood, by picking up three birdies in the first five holes on another fine autumn day before finishing with a birdie to come home in 32. He led by three shots 12 months ago before closing with a 66 to win by four.
Barring a dramatic collapse or someone in the chasing pack going really low in the final circuit at St Andrews, Hatton looks a good bet to join Padraig Harrington, the champion in 2002 and 2006, as the only multiple winner in this event.
Partnering Jamie Dornan, the Fifty Shades of Gray actor, in the team event appears to be contributing to Hatton’s good golf for the second year running. “The format helps me quite a lot. It keeps me quite relaxed at times,” admitted the leader. “It’s good fun playing with Jamie again. We did well last year and we’re having good fun again this year.”
On a day when Fleetwood, the Race to Dubai leader, tumbled out of contention after he could only manage a 76 – 13 shots more than his brilliant effort in setting a new course record at Carnoustie on Friday – Frenchman Gregory Bourdy emerged as Hatton’s closest challenger. The four-time European Tour winner bagged seven birdies, including four in a row from the third, as he carded a joint best-of-the-day 66 at the Angus venue. “It’s great to be in this position on my favourite course in the world, the famous Old Course,” said Bourdy. “I will fight from the beginning until the end.”
Dunne, who closed with a 61 last Sunday to hold off a fast-finishing Rory McIlroy to become British Masters champion, might need something similar to claim back-to-back victories. Following a 70 at Kingsbarns, the Irishman sits third on 11-under-par, a shot ahead of English duo Luke Donald and Ross Fisher after they signed for 66 and 67 at the same course.
Also playing at Kingsbarns, McIlroy was outside the cut before reeling off four birdies on the spin on his back nine, only to take some gloss off his day’s work by taking a bogey-6 at the ninth, his last, for a 68. On four-under, the four-time major winner ended up making it through with nothing to spare in his final event of the season before taking a three-month break.
“It was a bit of an up-and-down day,” said McIlroy of a card that contained eight birdies, a double-bogey and two bogeys. “But I’m glad to play one more round and get one more round around St Andrews before I call it a season and get ready for next year. It’s nice that my last competitive round of the year is going to be around St Andrews. I will go out and enjoy myself and try to end the season on a positive note.”
On a day that started with a disappointment for the home contingent as Richie Ramsay was forced to withdraw after injuring tendons in his shoulder hitting out of a divot at St Andrews on Friday, five Scots survived the 54-hole cut.
Twelve months after finishing fifth in the same event, Marc Warren moved into a share of 11th alongside David Drysdale after making seven birdies in a 67 at St Andrews. Warren was 173rd in the Race to Dubai three weeks ago, but, since igniting his campaign by finishing second in the Portugal Masters, it’s been a case of onwards and upwards for the talented 34-year-old.
After opening with a 69 in tough conditions at Carnoustie before backing that up with an equally impressive 67 at Kingsbarns, Drysdale was disappointed to lose ground after a par-72 at St Andrews. “It was tricky today,” said the Cockburnspath man after a round that included 16 pars. “I never really got into a rhythm. I didn’t feel I did an awful lot wrong but didn’t feel I struck the ball that well. I left myself 30 feet from the hole most of the day so was trying to two-putt for pars. Today was just a bit of a blip and hopefully I can come out tomorrow, find the middle of the clubface on the range and do better.”
Stephen Gallacher is a shot behind his two compatriots after a 70 at Carnoustie, where he started for home with four birdies in five holes, while rookie pros Connor Syme and Liam Johnston also made it through on five-under and four-under respectively. On just his second start in the paid ranks, having tied for 12th in Portugal a fortnight ago, Fifer Syme covered his back nine at St Andrews in a superb 31 while Dumfries man Johnston birdied the last at Carnoustie to get his new career off to a flying start.