The event’s first back-to-back winner and a new record for the Old Course. Boy, did the paying public get their money’s worth for £20 on the last day of this year’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
In benign conditions – only eight players failed to break par and one of them was Rory McIlroy as his frustrating year ended on, well, a frustrating note – Englishman Tyrrell Hatton enjoyed a victory procession over the closing 18 holes for the second year running in the $5 million pro-am event.
Despite compatriot Ross Fisher signing off with a stunning 61 – he had a putt for a 59 from the Valley of Sin before missing from three feet for a 60 – Hatton coasted home by three shots, as he had done in the home of golf for his breakthrough European Tour victory 12 months earlier.
With a closing bogey-free 66, he finished with a 24-under-par 264 total, beating his record aggregate from last year by a shot as the 25-year-old from Marlow confirmed he is back on song after missing the cut in all four of this season’s majors.
“It felt a lot harder winning this year so I am happy that I managed to get over the line,” said Hatton, who picked up a cheque close to £600,000. “I only saw a leaderboard for the first time at the 16th and fair play to ‘Fish’ for producing an incredible round of golf as he pushed me all the way.”
This event had already seen Tommy Fleetwood set a new course record at Carnoustie with his brilliant 63 at the Angus venue on Friday. Fisher’s closing salvo at St Andrews was just as impressive as he eclipsed a posse of players to have carded 62 on the Old Course, the first having been American Curtis Strange in the old Dunhill Cup in 1987.
Fisher achieved his record-breaking effort in three separate bursts. He got himself warmed up with four birdies in a row from the second before then finishing the front nine with a hat-trick of gains to turn in 29. The 36-year-old then reeled off four more birdies on the spin from the 12th and his place in history was assured after he safely negotiated the 17th to still stand 11-under for his round.
All that remained to be seen was how much he could lower the record by. His attempt to shoot the first 59 on the European Tour didn’t threaten the hole. That probably didn’t hurt but missing the next one for a birdie certainly would have. Nonetheless, it was still a great day’s work, lifting him into second place on 21-under, four ahead of Frenchman Victor Dubuisson after he’d also produced some last-day fireworks in a 63.
“When you get St Andrews on a day like this, it’s definitely scoreable, but you still have to hit the shots,” said Fisher. “I got off to a fast start then kind of caught fire a bit on the back nine. It was a shame not to birdie the last for a 60, but I’m not going to complain too much with a 61.”
Commenting on where he finished, he added: “Unfortunately, Tyrrell was too far ahead. I managed to give him a little bit to think about coming down the stretch. But hats off to him.”
On a day when Marc Warren secured a share of fourth spot with Robert Rock and Gregory Bourdy on 14-under, McIlroy summed up his final round of the year before taking a three-month break with this sarcastic remark: “A wonderful 72 in really tough conditions.”
That left him in a tie for 63rd on four-under, not the finish he’d been looking for after the boost he’d received when claiming second spot behind Paul Dunne in the British Masters the previous weekend. “I think my last round of 2017 sort of summed up all of 2017,” said the four-time major winner after only being able to make two birdies on a day when almost everyone else in the field was having a field day. “I was just sort of stuck in neutral.
“It hasn’t been the year I wanted on the golf course. Obviously I started the year with grand ambitions trying to add to my major tally and trying to win golf tournaments and get back up near the top of the world rankings. I obviously have not been able to do that so it’s not been the year I wanted. But, though I haven’t won and the results haven’t been what I have wanted, I feel like I can still salvage something from the rest of the year.
“I’ve given myself a lot of opportunity to put a lot of good foundations in place going forward. That’s what I’m going to concentrate on from now until the end of the year.”